| NEW DELHI, June 7
NEW DELHI, June 7 India's new government sought
to ease concerns that freedom of expression is under threat on
Saturday, promising to strengthen the independence of the
state-run broadcaster and to consider allowing more foreign
investment in Indian media.
Fears for freedom of expression have grown this year,
particularly after a controversial book on Hinduism was
withdrawn from sale following criticism from hard line Hindus.
The withdrawal of "The Hindus: An Alternative History" by
academic Wendy Doniger in February by publisher Penguin came
months before the Bharitiya Janata Party (BJP), a conservative
Hindu nationalist party led by Narendra Modi, won a landslide
The Information and Broadcasting Minister said he understood
that many publishers feared prosecution under a law that bans
acts intended to offend religious feeling, which Penguin said
made it very difficult to uphold international standards of free
"I am willing to meet publishers and listen to them,"
Prakash Javadekar told the TV channel Headlines Today.
Concerns that Modi's government will take a tougher line
with the press and publishing industries are "absolutely
unfounded", he said.
Javadekar said the government will consider allowing foreign
direct investment in India's news industry above an existing cap
of 26 percent, although he did not believe in 100 percent
The government will also restructure the state-owned
broadcaster to strengthen its editorial independence and improve
accountability, so that it more closely resembles the British
Broadcasting Corporation, Javadekar said.
The BJP accused the previous government of meddling with the
broadcaster after parts of an interview with Modi on the
state-owned TV channel Doordarshan in April were allegedly
removed. The then-government strongly denied any interference.
India will also allow private FM radio broadcasters to run
news bulletins from official and state-run providers before the
end of the year, Javadekar said, although they would not
immediately be allowed to produce their own news.
While India has long had a thriving private newspaper
industry, private and foreign broadcasters were only allowed to
set up operations under economic reforms enacted in the 1990s.
Javadekar said he believed that a democracy did not need a
ministry for information and broadcasting, and that his
long-term aim was to make the ministry redundant.
(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Kevin Liffey)