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'Viewpoint' By Anil Wanwari



In this the second part of the two-part series on Murdoch, let's examine why India should put up no-entry signs for the Ozzie-turned-American global media baron.
For starters there's the issue of direct-to-home television. Murdoch's News Corp has been tomtomming its ISkyB service as though it has a patent on the technology and the only one to be in a position to provide it in India. That's not true; the technology is available on tap. Also there are other Indian players: Lalit Modi's Modi Entertainment and Sterling Sat's C. Sivasankaran --and did we hear some one mention Subhash Chandra.

Agreed, ISkyB has done enough groundwork to allow it to get it rolling with a flick of a switch. But it did that when a government notification was in place banning dealing and selling of direct-to-home equipment without a licence. ISkyB said it was not involved in selling DTH equipment, dealers were, they needed a licence. "ISkyB is just a broadcasting service beaming from overseas and hence doesn't need a licence," said its chief Urmila Gupta.

That strategy worked in Murdoch's favour in the late eighties when he focused his European service Sky Broadcasting towards homes in the UK while beaming it off the Astra satellite. Regulations then prevented majority cross ownership between papers and televisions stations in the UK. Since he owned close to half the UK media then, he couldn't operate a television station under the law. He said that the law didn't apply to him as the satellite he was broadcasting off was not under British jurisdiction. Nobody stopped him. Not even Sky's "official" rival British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), which had got a government franchise. Both Sky and BSB made losses, but the haemorrhaging hurt BSB more and it was forced to merge with the former, giving Murdoch a monopoly in satellite broadcasting in Britain. Of course, Murdoch had British prime minister Maggie Thatcher's blessing in almost everything news did in the UK.

The strategy didn't work in India because the government had wizened up to Murdoch's wiles and it followed the ban on equipment with a ban on DTH, thus effectively closing the loophole that he was trying to exploit.

India doesn't need Murdoch and ISkyB because given resources any Indian entrepreneur can put together a DTH venture. Murdoch already has his foot in India with Star TV. If he is allowed to operate DTH, it won't be long before he enters the print medium. And if he does get a leg-in in this business, one can be sure he'll change the concept of news and come up with sensational newspaper exposes through his band of editors. A whole lot of which will be fabricated.
Murdoch is not needed in India because he brings with him his tabloid journalism which more than ever forces rivals to cater to people's baser needs of news. It was Murdoch's The Sun in the UK which pursued Lady Di with a passion.

Murdoch also has this uncanny ability to sack people without giving it a second thought. Something that can unnerve many an employee and union, and hence politicians.
Murdoch creates and topples governments, he's done that through his
newspapers on several occasions. That goes for any Indian print media baron. The only difference is that politicians wouldn't favour an outsider taking such drastic steps.

Murdoch is not welcome because he revels in power. And he gets this power thanks to the clutch of businesses he has acquired over the years. News Corp has the advantage of being vertically and horizontally integrated through his clutch of newspapers, magazines, book publishing, television, films, TV production units. Most Indian media barons have not been so adventurous and hence would be at a loss to fight the benefits that vertical and horizontal linkages bring. A handful of them may be forced to sell out to Murdoch. And that could be anathema to many a nationalist.

Appeared in a local newspaper in late 1997

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