Indian television homes may soon be able to watch the Qatar-based news channel, Al Jazeera International, with the Union Home Ministry clearing its application for permission to downlink and distribute in the country.
Sources in the Information & Broadcasting Ministry said the final round of paperwork was being wrapped up. The issue has been hanging fire since the middle of 2006 when Al Jazeera International sought to begin its India operations, along with the worldwide launch of the channel, on November 15, 2006.
When Al Jazeera International’s application was referred to the Home Ministry, it said the channel should not be allowed to register an office in India. In a September 14, 2006 letter, the Home Ministry, citing security considerations without elaborating upon them, said it did not recommend the registration of the company.
Neither should it be allowed to deal in the business of providing news, the Ministry said, seeking more information about the origins of the channel and the individuals involved.
The matter was referred to the Home Ministry by the Union Ministry of Company Affairs, when the channel approached it for registration of its Indian entity, AJ International (India), under the Indian Companies Act as mandated by the government for channels up-linking from overseas and seeking to downlink into the country.
Al Jazeera managers on Monday maintained that they were yet to hear from the government. In fact, according to them, this was not the first time that they had been told that the decks were cleared, the final permission was still awaited.
Should the channel get permission, Al Jazeera International will be a free-to-air network in India.
180 million viewership
Over the three years it has been on air, Al Jazeera International claims viewership in 180 million households worldwide, including in Israel, the U.S. and Canada where, too, it encountered problems in getting permission.