India to Allow Overseas Newspapers to Print Locally

20 June 2005

A fifty-eight year ban on the printing of foreign newspapers in India has been lifted by the nation's cabinet - a decision expected to be ratified by parliament in the near future.

Imposed by new prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru after the fledgling nation was granted independence by the British in 1947, the ban was intended to protect India's indigenous newspaper industry from overseas predators.

For more than fifty years it has succeeded in that purpose - until a challenge last year by the American-owned International Herald Tribune.

The Paris-based newspaper claimed that Nehru's ban lacked any underlying legal foundation and defiantly began printing last year in Hyderabad. Local IHT publisher M J Akbar asserted that that freedom of expression was guaranteed under the Indian constitution.

Until the IHT's initiative the newspaper, along with other foreign titles, was flown in from outside the country - usually too late to provide genuine news value and non-competitively priced. Although ordered by the government to stop printing, Akbar continued to ignore the ban.

Assuming parliamentary approval of the cabinet's decision, the door will be open to other foreign newspapers, such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal, to follow suit and print locally. The India market along with China - which remains closed to local production - is the last with any significant potential for circulation growth.

Says the courageous Akbar: "I don't quite feel like Julius Caesar but it's very satisfying. I've always believed that the newspaper industry was being held to ransom by a fiction."

But information minister Jaipal Reddy made it very clear that the Indian market is not about to become Liberty Hall for overseas newspaper publishers. They would be required to print the same edition as in other countries.

The Indian government would not permit localized versions that compete with domestic newspapers for advertising and readership. "We are permitting facsimile editions, not Indian editions," he said, "provided a company for that purpose is registered here. All countries in the west, even America, apply some form of protection."

Reddy is incorrect on the last point. The UK, alone among world's the major economies, permits the lion's share of its locally produced daily newspaper market - approaching forty per cent - to be controlled by News Corporation of the USA.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff