GUJRAL OK’S TV BILL

Indian b'cast authority to Parliament

BOMBAY — Barely in the saddle, India’s new Prime Minister Inder Gujral, a former media maven, and his cabinet have quickly approved a new broadcast bill, which now goes to Parliament for ratification.

The bill provides for a regulatory Broadcast Authority panel with powers to license and control the broadcasting business, including new satellite players.

A major concern for overseas players is a proposed 49% cap on foreign investment in Indian broadcasting companies.

All radio and television services will require a Broadcast Authority license. Print media can own no more than a 20% stake in broadcast media. The bill will grant autonomous status to the two government-owned networks, All India Radio and Doordarshan TV.

The measure is by no means law — and will not be in its present form, if existing opponents have their way. Their strength may show during discussion in a parliamentary committee to which the bill may be consigned by opponents on the floor of the House.

The government argues that the bill safeguards national security and Indian culture. Media analysts say that the bill is simply aimed at limiting the likely profits that foreign players, mainly Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV, may reap.

Star currently beams five channels into India and recently launched an aggressive Hindi-language programming thrust.

The government is also concerned about the direct-to-home project of Star’s feisty CEO Rathikant Basu, who has challenged the government by pushing ahead plans to bring DTH to India.

One key media maven, Amit Khanna of Plus Channel, a leading software company, said that many hurdles must be overcome before the bill becomes law but believes some regulation of the amorphous and rapid growth in this sector is necessary.

But others feel that the bill unduly favors Doordarshan and the government’s financial interests.

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