Huffington Post, a new-generation digital publisher, has likely become the first casualty of the government of India’s decision to ban foreign companies from opening news websites in India.
About four weeks ago, government of India banned all foreign owned companies from distributing news and current affairs content in India or even supplying news to Indian entities.
The only exemption would be if the foreign company brings down its shareholding in the Indian unit to 26% or less over the next one year.
Even for this, the foreign company has to specifically apply for special permission to retain its 26% share in the Indian unit, and the government can refuse to grant the permission.
HuffPost has already been struggling in India, and the decision to ban foreign companies was probably only an additional reason for the company to shutter its operations in the country.
SOCIAL MEDIA, APPS
Besides news websites like huffingtonpost.in, the ban also covers any “app” or “other platforms” that publishes or aggregates news and current affairs related content. Aggregation, according to the order, refers to the act of bringing together links to news articles or videos from various sources onto one web page or app or platform.
The definition is broad enough to cover social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube, as well as purely news-oriented apps NewsDog and foreign-owned news agencies like Reuters.
At the same time, the ban does not cover all foreign-owned websites and apps, but only those that are “located” or “registered” in India.
If a website — like Japan-based Nikkei — has a page or section dedicated to India, that will not be covered, as the website is not ‘located’ or ‘registered’ in India. Similarly, the New York Times or the Washington Post or Khaleej Times can have dedicated sections or pages or even entire websites dedicated to covering news about India.
However, they cannot try to ‘locate’ or ‘register’ that website in India, and must operate it from outside the country.
NEWS AGENCIES, SOCIAL MEDIA
Of particular concern to consumers will be the fate of websites like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
Google, for example, has a number of employees working on its news-aggregation service called Google News working out of its India facilities, even though Google News is not registered in India. Google Search too shows news articles.
Similarly, Facebook — which is widely used to share news articles by ordinary people — also employs a lot of engineers in India at its development centers in India, even though the website facebook.com is not ‘located’ or ‘registered’ in India.
Similarly, certain foreign agencies, such as Thomson Reuters, have Indian operations. The company, for example, has a large newsroom in Bangalore where journalists cover global events happening in countries such as the US, Canada, the UK, the Middle East, South East Asia and India. In fact, it is one of the biggest employers of journalists in the country.
A strict implementation of the new rules might force the company to shift its global news coverage operations out of India into a location like Eastern Europe. As far as Facebook, Twitter and Google are concerned, they can argue that their websites are not located in India, nor are these websites registered in India.
However, if the government says that they are located in India because they have offices in India and employ Indian workers, these companies will have to shut their offices in India and move all the current operations conducted in them to overseas locations.
The government did not specify why it wanted to kick out foreign companies engaged in the distribution of news and current affairs content from India.