Angry lawmakers said U.S. Ambassador Frank Wisner's meeting with N.P. Nawani, the top civil servant in the information and broadcasting ministry, to discuss the forthcoming Broadcast Authority Bill was highly improper.
According to The Economic Times newspaper, Wisner met with Nawani to express U.S. concern over a proposed 49% ceiling on foreign equity in radio and TV broadcasters seeking to operate in India. The agenda for the tete-a-tete also included the government's view on a proposed 20% limit on cross-media ownership involving print and electronic media.
This 49% limit would force many U.S. networks like MTV, Turner International, Discovery Channel, NBC and ESPN to dilute their stakes in existing wholly owned India-incorporated ventures.
"Parliamentarians are yet to go through the contents of the bill," Roop Chand Pal, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) member, told Parliament's Lower House. "The government has reportedly discussed the bill, its position on the cross-media holding and equity structure with Mr Wisner. This is unprecedented."
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party also lambasted the Indian government for tolerating alleged interference by the U.S. Embassy in local matters like a territorial dispute with neighboring Pakistan over the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The United Front government has been asked to reveal the discussion that took place between the U.S. envoy and the Indian civil servant. Interestingly, the government has decided not to introduce the new broadcast bill in the ongoing session of Parliament.
Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.