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The foreign hand

SEVANTI NINAN

THERE is a war being waged in the media, and it has nothing to do with Musharraf or Kashmir or PTV propaganda or TV ratings. It has to do with an enigmatic little phrase called "FDI in print." Despite double editorials, editor's columns, and front page campaigns on the issue, the common reader remains mystified as to what all the excitement is about. In case you need a glossary to negotiate this esoteric debate, this column thoughtfully provides one.

FDI: Foreign direct investment, also stands for desperate for foreign investment.

FII: Foreign institutional investors, or bankers who could be persuaded to invest in dubious propositions such as a recession-stricken media.

Print: Newspapers and magazines, as opposed to TV and Internet which thrive almost entirely on foreign direct or institutional investment without anybody losing sleep over it.

Foreign Investors in print: A mythical tribe believed to be itching to come and lose money in India.

Cabinet resolutions of 1955 and 1956: Something that made negative noises about letting foreigners own newspapers and magazines in this country. Something nobody heard of until liberalisation began to knock at the doors of the print media.

Jawaharlal Nehru: India's first prime minister, forgotten for the last 10 years at least, recently resurrected for having presided over the passing of the said cabinet resolution. Therefore now a good, wise, far-sighted guy for big newspapers who are anti-FDI, but were bad-mouthing his socialism not so long ago.

Liberalisation: Something that leading Indian newspapers support, as long as it is not in the newspaper industry.

FDI in print: A mirage chased by newspapers that are broke.

Twenty-six per cent: A formulation put forward by broke newspapers to connote foreign investment that doesn't amount to foreign ownership. Who will call the shots if the foreign guy with 26 per cent is the single biggest shareholder, remains a mystery.

Foreign news media: Foreign-owned news media as opposed to Indian media aspiring to foreign money but strenuously claiming that it will never be foreign owned. Foreign ownership: something that the broke newspapers claim will not happen despite foreign investment. Something that solvent newspapers claim will definitely happen.

National Interest: Self interest in ill-concealed disguise.

National security, political and geo-political environment: Something that the anti-FDI lobby says will be endangered if foreign newspapers buy some shares in Indian ones.

The leader who guards the reader: A big, rich English language newspaper that has the distinction of making more profits than all the other newspapers put together in the country, currently chief standard bearer of the National Interest. (And the Reader's Interest, they would add. You don't want foreign owners calling the shots in creating public opinion in the country, do you? The way Murdoch did in U.K.? And, of course, he is not doing the same here with Star News. It's only a TV channel.)

A matter of principle: A phrase used by both sides to describe their position.

Congress Party: A political party that is both for and against FDI in print.

Bharatiya Janata Party: A political party whose favourite newspaper (officially broke) knows that lots of overseas friends of the BJP will bail it out if FDI in print is allowed. The party is also represented in the FDI campaign by one of its MPs who owns a newspaper.

CPI(M): A political party that abhors foreign investment in the print media but loves it in the State where it rules.

Standing Committee: A committee comprised of MPs of all political parties that has been sitting for some time on a decision on the issue.

Swadeshi: A term popularised by George Fernandes but recently redefined by him in the defence ministry to mean made in India, but not necessarily with Indian money.

Protectionism: What broke newspapers accuse solvent newspapers of practising.

Monopolist: A big bad newspaper, bad because it is making money and the little guys around it are not.

An entertainment medium: Something the big newspapers strenuously claim they are not, never mind all those acres of newsprint devoted to Esha Deol, Ritu Beri, K3G, Bipasha Basu's love life, and Dino Morea's feather light acting talents.

Journalists' Unions: Curiously little heard from in this debate. Can't decide whether the national interest is good for journalists' interests.

Journalists: The guys and gals who are lying low and kidding themselves that FDI in print will bring them better pay packets.

E-mail the writer at sevantininan@vsnl.com

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