WHY INDIA DOESN'T NEED
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
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