Foreign influence fear seen as basis for regulatory delays by governments

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 June, 1998, 12:00am

The failure of governments across Asia to pass legislation to regulate broadcasting because of concern about foreign influence is harming development of broadcasting in the region, Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia president S.K. Fung says.

'The governments have got a long way to go before they can call their cable and satellite TV industries deregulated. To get that, you have to allow foreign competition - you should let the marketplace work,' Mr Fung said.

Governments in India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Philippines have been drawing up, redrawing and attempting to pass industry legislation.

Political infighting and the problem of keeping pace with advances in technology are cited as the main reasons for the hold-ups.

Star TV chief executive Gary Davey said bureaucrats could be excused for finding it hard to keep abreast of new developments.

'I think that one of the problems about formulating broadcasting regulations is that everything changes so quickly,' he said. 'Governments like India's are having to invent the wheel in the jet age when it comes to drafting legislation. It is very hard trying to anticipate the advent of technology like digital TV.' Observers, however, feel concerns about the role of non-nationals are the bedrock reason for the snail's pace of legislation.

In India, the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to curtail the influence of non-Indian companies since it was elected this year.

Last month it lifted a ban on uplinking TV signals from ground stations to satellites - with the condition that companies involved are 80 per cent Indian owned.

The BJP also is strongly advocating a foreign-ownership cap of between 25 per cent and 49 per cent on any firm involved in the Indian broadcasting industry.

In Taiwan, Elite International law offices partner Arthu Hsieh said that in the past few years there had been seven versions of proposed amendments to alter the 1993 Cable TV laws.

In addition, there had been three widely different drafts of the Satellite TV law.

Differences in the drafts centres on the influence of non-Taiwanese businesses, although Mr Hsieh said a consensus appeared to have been reached to cap foreign investment at 30 per cent, with a further 20 per cent in indirect investment.

After News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch met South Korean president Kim Dae-jung in Seoul in February, there was speculation that country's strictures against foreign participation in the TV sector in particular would be eased.

A government-appointed committee was convened to examine whether the 15 per cent foreign-ownership limit could be increased in the satellite TV sector, possibly to as high as 49 per cent.

There are hopes the legislation could go before legislators this month and be passed by September.

Groups are rallying against the increased involvement of non-Korean interests. The powerful Korean Broadcasting Union, in particular, said that instead of encouraging foreigners, Mr Kim's government should invest in domestic media companies to improve standards nationally.