August 10, 1995: Ever since American Cable News Network (CNN) inaugurated its tie-up with India's state broadcaster with a programme on Indians' supposed love for cows, it has been in trouble. It is not enough that this American parochialism so typical of CNN will do little to enhance its viewership; the network has also been plagued by criticism from almost everywhere.
Yesterday in Parliament leading opposition parties accused the government of "selling out to foreigners" and weakening national security. Accompanied by much routine hysteria, they walked out of the House. They also claimed the government had made the first step towards loosening controls on foreign ownership of print media, which, strangely, is prohibited - although foreigners may own up to 49% of telecom service providers. They made much of the fact that even the American government restricts foreign controls in media.
The government, for its part, claimed the tie-up between CNN and Doordarshan, the state broadcaster, will be "good for India's image." Indeed it will - CNN has committed to produce a programme for broadcast over its global network on India's Independence Day, August 15th. This will include excerpts of the Prime Minister's Independence Day speech, but, hopefully, no cows.
Meanwhile India's broadcasting reforms are stalled with the procedural delay of the Indian Broadcasting Act, created after a Supreme Court verdict in February declaring the current state monopoly unconstitutional. K P Singh Deo, Minister for Information and Broadcasting (I&B), said in Parliament that the government would soon introduce comprehensive broadcasting legislation - although the Act has been in preparation for some time it has rarely been mentioned in public, and the comment has gone unnoticed once again.
However, Secretary for I&B Bhaskar Ghose told The Indian Techonomist today that the Act cannot be placed before Parliament in the current session. It has first to be cleared by the Cabinet, which includes the Minister. With a looming general election on its collective mind, the Cabinet has other things to worry about. So, for that matter, has the Opposition.
For an analysis of Indian broadcasting reforms based on an interview with Secretary Ghose, see here. See also: CNN ties up with India's state broadcaster, Monopolies and free speech (an analysis of the Supreme Court ruling, with former Chief Justice's views)
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