HuffPost India, an Indian digital publication of the United States-based digital media company, HuffPost, shut shop on Tuesday, November 24, after six years of operation, leaving 12 journalists unemployed.
HuffPost India's closing comes as the first direct result of the Centre's latest policy restricting foreign investment in digital media publications.
About four weeks ago, the 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 reduces its shareholding in the Indian unit to 26% or less over the next one year.
Even for this, the foreign company has to apply for special permission to maintain its 26% share in the Indian unit, and the government can deny permission.
The order covers social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube, as well as purely news-oriented apps and foreign-owned news agencies. At the same time, the ban does not include all foreign-owned websites and apps, but only those that are "located" or "registered" in India.
"Modi Diktat on FDI for digital media claims first scalp. @HuffPostIndia shuts shop. When @BuzzFeed bought @HuffPost, it kept Brazil & India out of deal. India was no go because of new FDI cap and regulatory uncertainty. 12 jobs lost to atmanirbhar policy," The Wire's founding editor, Siddharth Varadarajan, tweeted.
The closure of HuffPost India followed the sale of HuffPost, previously owned by Verizon, to Buzzfeed, in a deal that left India and Brazil orphaned for legal troubles.
"The India team was surviving with a grace period. Verizon Media would not have been able to own them for much longer either. Foreign companies aren't allowed to control news organisations and BuzzFeed India can only operate because we are a culture and entertainment property," CEO of BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti, said.
On November 24, Indians who visited huffingtonpost.in, read a message saying, "As of November 24 HuffPost India will no longer be publishing content. For more great global content, please visit HuffPost.com. We thank you for your support and readership."
On the same day, Huffpost's Brazil site also displayed also shut operations, thanking its viewers with a note from the editor.
Huffington Post India Private Limited was included as a subsidiary of a foreign company in 2015 with a capital of ₹6.5 crore and paid-up capital of ₹3.15 crore. Under the latest order by the Centre, the owners of Verizon had to reduce their shareholding to 26% until October 2021.
While the Indian edition has closed, the parent company can still hire journalists in India to produce news content. Since there would be no India-based company involved, there would be no FDI rules to obey.
Among many crucial stories, HuffPost.in reported a series on the lack of transparency in the government's decision to launch electoral bonds as a means of political financing and also reported on the concerns of the Reserve Bank of India.
Netizens took to Twitter to express their disappointment after they were informed about HuffPost India shutting shop.