The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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AIR monopoly aflutter in reform airwaves

New Delhi, Oct. 24: Signalling widespread change in radio programming, a task force of the Union information and broadcasting ministry is set to recommend an end to All India Radio’s monopoly over news and current affairs.

The task force, headed by secretary-general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, has taken the cue from Union information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who has indicated more than once that he favours allowing private FM stations to broadcast news. The task force is expected to submit its report next week.

Prasad, however, has been wary that his sympathies may not be shared by others in the government, particularly the Union home ministry.

The experience of the I&B ministry with community radio — a policy that was announced last year — is that its willingness is not enough to overcome the unwillingness of five other ministries.

The I&B ministry accepts that news broadcasting is a sensitive subject but it can be allowed if private broadcasters adhere to All India Radio’s broadcast code. This would involve some kind of monitoring and vetting of broadcasts. The ministry would work on constituting a body, either within the government or ask an independent body to be the watchdog over radio news.

Sources said the I&B ministry was working on legislating a broadcasting regulator. Though it has been conceived primarily for television, its brief can be expanded to include radio programmes.

Discussions in the 10-member committee, comprising representatives from government and industry, and briefings in the ministry have clearly pointed to the direction the report would recommend. The committee would also suggest that the government accept industry’s recommendation to move from the licensing-regime for FM radio stations to a revenue-sharing model.

The task force was set up on July 24 to consider opening up FM radio channels in 70 cities. Later, its brief was expanded to study all contentious issues on FM Radio, including the proposal from industry to move to a revenue-sharing model and also the question of foreign investment.

Industry has been arguing that licence fees are currently so steep that they render FM radio unviable.

On foreign investment in the FM sector, I&B ministry sources said the stalemate over STAR-promoted Radio City continues. Millennium Broadcast, which holds the licence, is serviced by its sole content-provider Digiwave. When the licence was granted last year, there was nothing to forbid the arrangement Radio City had worked out. It now has a court order that restrains the government from revoking its licence.

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