Foreign Direct Investment threatens Indian media

TRIVANDRUM, India – As part of their pro-corporate globalization agenda, the government of India decided to allow Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in print media. The national cabinet adopted the new bill, June 25, overturning a 1955 law that prohibited foreign ownership of Indian news publications.

Foreign investors are allowed up to 26 percent equity in news and current affairs publications and up to 74 percent equity in non-news and non-current affairs publications.

This new bill will be the death knell of the Indian national press, say critics. To pacify them, the writers of this bill gave management control to Indians and Indian firms. The bill suggests that three-fourths of the editorial staff and the chief editors should be Indian.

Two ministers from the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pushed the FDI through, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sushama Swaraj and hardcore jingoist Murali Manohar Joshi, minister for Human Resource Development.

This decision came within months of a Parliamentary committee rejection of the FDI proposal. In 2000, the government had rejected the same idea. The U-turn in this matter comes from the pressure of transnational corporate media barons who see huge profits in the Indian market, while trying to further their political and ideological influence. The hypocrisy is Western European; North American and Oceania region countries are still restricting foreign ownership of their print media.

The national press plays a significant role in Indian democracy, including building secularism and national integrity. The role of the Indian press, which was owned, managed and staffed by Indians during the freedom struggles, is a classic example of how the press can be key to liberation and patriotism.

Since independence, the press’s role to expose corrupt politicians and other cancers of society to the public has been critical. Their multi-faceted involvement in the democratic process in India is applauded by eminent social scientists like Nobel laureate Dr. Amartya Sen. Even though there are some drawbacks to the Indian press’s attention as a watchdog of democracy and public informer, it is hailed by the world’s media.

Will foreign investors have these same commitments? They are coming to the land to make profits and advance their overall agenda, not to safeguard Indian democracy or to respect the Indian people, many critics say.

Newspapers and news publications have a great influence on the Indian people. The Internet is accessed by only 6 million in India, but newspapers are read by 180 million.

The Indian national press can’t compete with these corporations in terms of money and technology. Big Indian newspaper groups like Malayamanorama, Aanad Bazzar Patrika, The Hindu and The Hindustan Times will be severely affected with this decision. Smaller groups will simply wither away.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government claims 26 percent equity is not enough to gain control of a firm. The Indian experience, however, shows that 10 percent equity is more than enough to control a firm. Foreign conglomerates can invest 26 percent officially and indirectly invest the other 74 percent in the name of their Indian associates.

Transnational media corporations found willing partners with the BJP ministers, who are already followers of corporate globalization and privatization.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) Politburo member S. Ramachandran Pillai said the move would allow multinationals to stifle public opinion and thereby weaken the democratic polity of the country and it can sallow large sections of the print media.

Many democratic parties, organizations and media outlets have condemned the FDI, including the Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Revolutionary Socialist and the Congress Party.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org