Gov't could limit News Corp. in India

NEW DELHI — Rupert Murdoch must think the world is out to get him.

Already struggling with China’s love-hate relationship with foreign media, the mogul now faces India’s crackdown on broadcasting monopolies and foreign ownership, which could hit News Corp.’s successful Star Group.

The government is circulating a draft bill that has not yet been made public, but looks likely to go before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet next month in time for consideration in the upcoming session of parliament.

The bill’s main demands — confirmed to Daily Variety by government sources who asked not be identified — are that 15% of content is made locally, that 10% must cover socially relevant issues and that 10% of advertising air-time be reserved for public service announcements, a measure execs say will eat into the 60 billion rupees ($1.3 billion) annual ad revenues.

It also would limit ownership by any broadcaster in a cable or satellite network to 20%.

Bill proposes the creation of a broadcast regulatory authority to ensure program content conforms to India’s conservative mores. The authority would have the power to impose massive fines or even shutter a station that continually broadcasts material it considers offensive. It’s not clear whether this would replace, or work in tandem with, the Broadcasting Authority of India.

The bill aims to limit the size of domestic media groups, but foreign broadcasters also will have to comply — posing problems for Star, for example, which has a plethora of channels including one, Star Movies, which broadcasts mostly Hollywood fare 24 hours a day.

Star execs said while they haven’t seen the bill, the company has been broadly apprised of its contents.

They are apprehensive but hope that Star’s entire output, rather than channel by channel, would be considered in the 15% rule. If that happens, the group will easily qualify as content for Star World is 100% locally made.

Execs of Zee Group, India’s biggest listed media group, said they have yet to see the bill and prefer not to comment.

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