Anita Joshua

Cites security considerations; I&B Ministry clears application

  • TV channel had submitted application for registration
  • Company already floated, say channel officials

    NEW DELHI: Three months after the Government denied banning the Qatar-based Arab news channel, Al Jazeera, the Union Home Ministry has said it should not be allowed to register an office in India, thereby capping for now its plans to beam into the country. The decision comes at a time when Al Jazeera is all set to launch its English channel worldwide on November 15.

    After the Government asked the channel to go off the air six months ago for failing to conform to downlinking guidelines by May 10, Al Jazeera submitted an application to the Union Ministry of Company Affairs for registration of a company in India, as stipulated by the Government for channels uplinking from overseas and seeking to downlink into the country.

    The Company Affairs Ministry referred the matter to the Home and Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministries. While the I&B Ministry cleared the application, 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 in a letter dated September 14.

    However, senior managers of Al Jazeera International the English channel said an Indian company, AJ International (India), had been floated under the Indian Companies Act and the process of applying for downlinking permission was underway.

    At the same time, they admitted that India would not be on Al Jazeera International's map when it goes on air at 12 GMT on November 15.

    In August, there was a row over the disappearance of Al Jazeera from the air, with sections of the international media describing it as a "Government of India ban on the Arab channel," forcing I&B Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi to clarify in Parliament. Denying a ban, he said all channels, which had failed to conform to the downlinking guidelines, had been taken off air. Cable operators and Direct-to-Home service providers had been instructed not to show any channel downlinking into India from overseas, which had not applied for registration along with the processing fees by May 10. Al Jazeera was one such channel.

    While the downlinking guidelines had set a 180-day-deadline from November 11, 2005 for completion of all formalities of registration and obtaining permission for downlinking, the Ministry made a concession in May. As the deadline neared, the Ministry announced that all such channels yet to register in India could be shown by cable operators for six months after May 11