The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Here’s some news, for FM radio channels

New Delhi, Sept. 17: The Union information and broadcasting ministry favours opening up news and current affairs to private FM radio channels.

If it is allowed, All India Radio will lose its long-standing monopoly on news. Private FM stations currently broadcast only entertainment largely because they have little content to fill up the time available.

A task force on FM radio constituted by the ministry on July 24 has asked for an extension of the time allotted to it to come up with recommendations.

The 10-member committee has now been given a month’s extension and will put up a draft of its recommendations on the ministry’s website by October 10 for public feedback. The final report will be submitted by October 31.

In the second round of bidding for FM radio licence, the task force has been asked to consider allowing private operators in as many as 70 small cities. FM stations currently operate in the metros and Grade-1 cities.

But even before the task force completes its job, the ministry has sent out loud and clear signals that it will take a liberal view on radio programming subject to safeguards.

At present, only public broadcaster AIR goes on air with news and current affairs.

One view expressed within the task force is that, with a large number of radio stations likely to begin broadcasting news once it is allowed, it may be difficult to monitor the content.

“We think that radio news can be very sensitive. AIR has a strict code. It may be possible for FM to broadcast news with acceptance of the AIR code. There is also enough space for self-regulation. The ministry will be liberal and bold on this subject. But the decision will rest with the Union cabinet,” a senior I&B ministry official said today.

The task force comprises representatives of the government and industry. Among its members are Amit Mitra (Ficci), Dilip Chenoy (CII), Kiran Karnik (Nasscom), Amin Sayani (broadcaster), P.K. Garg (Wireless Planning Commission), K.M. Paul (AIR), K.R.P. Verma (Broadcast Engineering Consultants), Shardul Shroff (Amirchand Mangaldas), Noreen Naqvi (AIR) and Mahuya Paul (I&B ministry).

Union information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is also understood to have told his bureaucrats that the government is willing to look at “widespread change” in radio programming. The decision rests with the cabinet but Prasad heads the nodal ministry on the subject.

Prasad has given an early indication of the ministry’s views by already asking the Union home ministry to reconsider an application by the Jammu University to start a community radio station.

Earlier this year, the ministry announced that it would entertain applications from academic institutions to start community radio stations.

About 20 applications from universities and institutes of technology and management are pending with the government. Jammu University’s application was sent to the home ministry for clearance but it was held back citing the law and order situation in the Valley.

Subsequently, however, the Centre has permitted cellular telephone services in Jammu and Kashmir. This has been cited by the I&B ministry in its request to the home ministry to reconsider Jammu University’s application.

“The way we view it, community radio is an education enabler. There could be security concerns but we need to have a re-look at the application,” the official said.

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