This won’t go down well with Media owners: in its election manifesto for the 15th Indian parliamentary elections, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has said that they want to reverse the entry of Foreign Direct Investment in the print and electronic media. At present only 26% FDI restrictions apply in news media, though these limits may have been affected by the recent changes in government policy.
The impact of such a policy on media businesses will be disastrous: many of these businesses have been overleveraged during the boom time, and reversing FDI in Media through government policy may result in payouts to investors; can these companies afford it? Such a policy will be seen as regressive, and will also sound the death knell for investment in India, since investors will be wary of any government that takes such steps.
The CPI (M) also wants to prohibit Cross-Media ownership “to prevent monopolies” – we wonder how, if implemented retrospectively, this will impact existing media companies that have ownership of media on TV, Radio and the web. Companies like News Corp, Zee and Sun also own both content and carriage – with channels and DTH operations.
The CPI (M) also wants to set up a Media Council to act as an independent regulatory authority for the media
Telecom: Alleges UPA Scam; Will Take Another Look At Policy
The CPI (M) has alleged that the UPA government presided over a massive telecom scam; that it “first sold 2G licences to favoured companies. The companies then divested their shares at huge profits. In the process, the exchequer lost at least one lakh crore rupees. The government has refused to order a probe into this massive scam.” The voters should bear in mind that the CPI (M) was supporting the government which it now accuses, for most of its term.
What is worrying is that the party intends to review energy and telecom policies “in tune with the interests of self-reliant national development.” If we look at the telecom sector, the party appears to suggest that they will favour public owned telecom operators MTNL and BSNL. Interestingly, they have not mentioned whether they are for or against the listing of BSNL in the Indian stock market. Readers will remember that BSNL trade unions were against the listing last year, following which the plan was yet again deferred.
Apart from this, while no specific plans have been outlined, the the CPI (M) has promised “Adequate Plan outlays for power, communications, railways, roads, ports and airports.”
Software & Patents
The CPI (M) intends to promote “free software and other such new technologies, which are free from monopoly ownership through copyrights or patents; ‘knowledge commons’ should be promoted across disciplines, like biotechnology and drug discovery”. The party wants to scrap the Public Funded R&D Bill which seeks to allow patenting of products that are developed through public funded laboratories.
Broadband and Internet access for schools or villages, whether wireless or wireline, do not find a mention in the CPI(M) manifesto.
On the whole, the CPI (M) manifesto lacks the specificity of the the BJP manifesto, but then we also thought that the BJP manifesto needed to be more realistic.