India foreign TV ban temporary

BOMBAY — In a sign of the growing pressure to loosen control of the media by the Indian government, the country’s broadcast minister Jaipal Reddy said last week the ban on foreign companies beaming TV directly into Indian homes will only be temporary.

The announcement of the lifting of the ban followed the filing July 22 of a lawsuit by Rupert Murdoch’s News Television India Ltd. challenging the direct-to-home satellite ban, which had been announced the previous week.

Indian governments have long been wary of letting the power of TV and radio fall into the hands of outsiders, foreign or domestic. Economic reforms in the early 1990s, however, have been accompanied by calls to open up the media as well.

As a first step in this new liberalization policy, the government activated a law that would make its two propaganda mouthpieces, the national television network Doordarshan (DD) and its radio arm All India Radio (AIR), autonomous from Sept. 15.

For the plodding Delhi bureaucracy, the speed with which such a potentially momentous change is being implemented is impressive.

The so-called Prasar Bharati Act will establish the Broadcasting Corp. of India, which in turn will oversee the functioning of DD and AIR.

Just how much autonomy the two TV and radio entities will have in future remains to be seen.

The government can, if need be, remove members of the TV and radio boards from office. The government can also direct the corporation in the interests of the country to refrain from broadcasting particular news items or stories.

The Prasar Bharati Act could move the government away from center-stage only to position it offstage, where it can just as easily manipulate its two media outlets.

On the other hand, Doordarshan and AIR are no longer the only game in town: Satellite and cable are becoming increasingly popular and effective in relaying world and local news. In addition, the posts of chairman and CEO of the Broadcasting Corp. may be filled by non-governmental people, who may not follow the government’s dictates.

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