Saturday, June 05, 2004

Publishing: When the International Herald Tribune stumped India...

Read The Hindu: One | Two. For a slightly different version, read Business Standard.

Since May 31, 2004 a newspaper with the title International Herald Tribune started publishing out of India, from Hyderabad. It was printed from Deccan Chronicle's press on behalf of an Indian company Midram Publications Private Limited, owned by Deccan Chronicle's owner T. Venkattram Reddy. The paper carried the editor's name as MJ Akbar.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was caught unawares. Only when newspapers started reporting this fact did they wake up to the issue.

The Hindu seems to indicate that this type of publication is a violation of the existing laws in the country. According to the 1955 Cabinet Resolution, says The Hindu, "foreign newspapers and periodicals which dealt mainly with news and current affairs should not be allowed to bring out editions in India." In 2002, NDA Government allowed 26% equity stake in news media and upto 100% in entertainment media.

The Hindu further states
As for syndication laws, the Government in 2002 revised the guidelines to mandate that the total material so procured and printed in an issue of an Indian publication should not exceed 7.5 per cent of the total printed area of that issue. Further, the masthead of the content provider could not be used.
However, the Business Standard report indicates that the whole operation has been planned very meticulously.
  1. The company that is publishing the Indian version is a company regsitered in India, and fully owned by Indians.
  2. The name of the paper has been registered with the Registrar of Newspapers of India.
  3. To avoid copyright and trademark violations, the publishing company in India has obtained no-objection certificate from The International Herald Tribune.
  4. Only 7.5% of the content is sourced from The International Herald Tribune. The rest from various news agencies.
It is unclear what the masthead looks like. Having taken so much care, they would have ensured that the masthead is not the same as the one used internationally.

It appears from The Hindu news item that the I & B ministry officials are asking the IHT to withdraw from this arrangement. However, I cannot see how this is enforceable. One can also see the shades of reporting standards not being up to the mark: The Hindu resists foreign investment in print media, Business Standard welcomes it, and has sold 26% equity in its company to the London based The Financial Times.

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  1. I was surprised too when the stroy broke out. With people like MJ Akbar at the helm, I was wondering where was the catch ! :-) ( I didn't think any one would cock a snook that blatantly !) So,that 7.5% content seems to be the catch. But what I am curious to know is that would the opinions / leader pieces be included in that 7.5% ? If that is the case, then that should kick off some dust storm really. And your observation of reporting is true. The angles of the reporting reveal the policy positioning of these papers.

  2. Now this is turning into a legal issue, with the I & B ministry taking legal action. I am monitoring this case carefully. Quite interesting!