Sangeeta Tanwar

IMC 2009: Ambika Soni promises publishers a new Press Act and sustained dialogue

In addition to DAVP, Film Corporation of India has also been appointed as the nodal agency to choose publications that require aid by way of government advertisements

On the first day of the two-day event -- The Indian Magazine Congress 2009 (IMC 2009) held in Delhi by Association of Indian Magazines (AIM) -- various stakeholders, including publishers, advertisers, media planners, researchers and media analysts were in full attendance.

The highlight of the day was the address by Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister, Ambika Soni, whereby the industry was appreciated and assured unflinching support from the government.

The Minister began her address by acknowledging the collective efforts put in by publishers, which resulted in the industry outperforming the Indian economy. She said that as things stand, media and entertainment is one of the fastest growing sectors today. In the same breath, she acknowledged that a disproportionate amount of her ministry's time is consumed by broadcast media; but this does not mean that she, or her ministry, would discount the importance of print media.

IMC 2009: Ambika Soni promises publishers a new Press Act and sustained dialogue
She shared that as per the Registrar of Newspapers for India, at present, there are more than 69,000 newspapers and periodicals in the country; and the industry's growth has been fuelled by regional language publications, despite the tough economic climate.

Citing major policy changes, she pointed out that this year, the government allowed for 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) with prior government approval for publication of facsimile editions of foreign publications. Besides, foreign firms are also allowed to invest up to 26 per cent in companies publishing the Indian editions of foreign news and current affairs magazines.

These moves are aimed to encourage international publishers to provide more choice to Indian readers. This year also saw the launch of international titles such as Spectator and Forbes India.

Soni brought attention to opposing views on TRAI's recommendation for increasing the FDI cap in news and current affairs publications from 26 per cent to 49 per cent.

Those favouring the increase in FDI cap argue that the move will help smaller players compete with large media houses and help break into the monopolies and cartels, which cast shadows on professional practices in the media space.

The opponents caution that the move might put too much power in the hands of foreign players, proving detrimental to our ideals and democracy itself.

However, she informed that a cabinet note is already in circulation to decide the issue. She declared that the government was in the process of making changes to the more than 140-year-old Press and Registration of Books (PRB) Act (1867), blocking the entry of frivolous and non-serious publications in the country. The revised Act will have separate definitions for magazines; however, registration of books will not be covered under the new provisions of the Act.

She stated that the I&B ministry is also alive to the serious talent crunch faced by the media industry, and thus, was committed to setting up more institutes on the lines of Indian Institute of Mass Communication.

IMC 2009: Ambika Soni promises publishers a new Press Act and sustained dialogue
Following Soni's comments, the floor was opened for questions from the audience. Maheshwer Peri, president and publisher, Outlook Group and president, AIM acted as the moderator for the Q&A session.

One of the concerns related to the role of Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) in supporting magazines. The I&B Minister replied that publishers at large are benefited, as they are assured of a stable source of infusion of capital, on account of bulk ads given by DAVP.

At the same time, in a move to ease the pressure on DAVP in solely identifying the beneficiaries for government aid, now, Film Corporation of India has also been recognised as the nodal agency to choose publications that require government aid.

Peri himself raised the problem of the drastic decline in sales outlets for magazine publishers across the country, due to development and construction projects or demolitions for one reason or the other. The Minister pointed out that if this was the case, then the respective state governments have to look into the matter.

However, she added that nothing stops publishers from striking partnerships with private players, who are involved in, say, airport development or construction of malls, to set up distribution outlets.

Soni emphasized that her ministry is open to dialogue with stakeholders from the publishing industry and would appreciate if a representative body from within the AIM members could be formed, solely for discussions with the government on various policy decisions and amendments. This would help save time and energy, by facilitating consensus on contentious issues through sustained dialogue and consultation.