Is the chapter on permitting news broadcasts to private FM radio channels over, at least as far as the government is concerned?
This appears to be the view of both Information and Broadcaster Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi and I&B Secretary Sushma Singh, who both answered with an unequivocal ‘no’ recently to media queries whether news would be allowed soon on the FM airwaves.
The move has been perceived by the radio industry as a regrettable step as news is permitted on all other media.
While sources say the government could reconsider the matter after the Broadcast Services Regulatory Bill becomes law,,the final view of the Ministry on the issue would have to go through the Cabinet for final clearance.
According to the present FM Radio policy, news and current affairs are the sole domain of All India Radio and should not be broadcast by private FM channel in any manner. Private FM radio is the only mass medium not offering news and current affairs as part of its programming/ content. All other media - TV, Newspapers and Internet, and even satellite radio - are allowed to broadcast news.
TRAI has in its recommendations on the “3rd Phase of Private FM Radio Broadcasting” said the broadcasters should only be permitted to take content from All India Radio, Doordarshan, authorized television news channels, United News of India, Press Trust of India, and any other authorized news agency. ‘No other source of news should be permitted at present’, TRAI said.There also seems to a debate that if the FM industry is not allowed to broadcast news in the air waves, why should it be allowed on the satellite space? “It seems to be absurd that satellite radio which has 100 per cent FDI are allowed news and on the contrary FM with 20 per cent FDI are denied from it,” says Friends FM business head Amritendu Roy.
The Radio Forum of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry had said in a memorandum in December last year that the penetration of radio had only risen marginally from 45 to 53 per cent despite the number of FM Channels in the country growing from ten to more than 200.
Interestingly, addressing the media after the 26th State Information Ministers Conference (SIMCON) in September last year – before TRAI gave its report – Dasmunsi had said government was not in principle opposed to introduction of news and current affairs on private FM radio stations, but there is no effective and established system to monitor the FM stations. ‘We may have to find a selective monitoring mechanism. The matter is presently under consideration and we would like to have the views of the State Governments also on this particular issue’.
Earlier the same day, in his inaugural address the Minister had indicated that a final report on permitting news and current affairs to private FM Radio channels would be taken by the end of the year (2007) by finding an effective and established system to monitor the stations. At the same time, he had reiterated that ‘there is not even a remotest thinking in the Government to interfere with the programming or the news or the editorial desk of any newspaper or electronic channel’.
The radio industry argues that the radio fraternity has invested about Rs 20 billion and in a short span of time has earned revenues amounting to Rs 12 billion. This growth in the industry has outgrown the growth of many other mediums and as such the government must help the medium to expand more. As SFM project head Nisha Narayanan puts it, “Radio as a medium is growing at a rate of 24 per cent and the government must be supportive as we are generating revenues for them and allowing news will only help in differentiation and to evangelize the medium.”
“The denial of news for FM stations stems from the perception of the authorities that FM radio players are irresponsible and incapable of regulating themselves,” says Radio Mango director programmes Ravi Nair.