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Radio revolution in wings

New Delhi, Nov. 17: A task force set up to reform radio programming in the country has claimed if its policies are implemented, nearly 2,000 radio stations will be set up in the country “in a few years”.

Headed by Ficci secretary general Amit Mitra, the task force has recommended a series of new policies that seek to break All India Radio’s (AIR) monopoly over news and current affairs, pave the way for foreign investment in radio programming and link government licences to private operators to their revenues.

The Amit Mitra committee’s recommendations are among the most dramatic that the broadcast sector has seen.

While the Union information and broadcasting ministry says it approves of the “general direction” of the recommendations — that are aimed at proliferating radio stations — acceptance of the recommendations and modifications of policy will need the green signal of the cabinet.

It is widely known that the task force — formed by the I&B ministry — made its recommendations on a clear signal from minister Ravi Shankar Prasad that he is looking to open up the radio sector.

But Prasad’s gung-ho approach on reforming the broadcast sector has taken some beating, on television as well as on community radio.

He has not been able to implement the conditional access system for cable television. Earlier in the year, the ministry had made another claim — that 1,000 community radio stations will be set up by the end of 2003 — but since a policy to allow higher academic and specialised institutions to start radio stations was announced, not even one application has been processed.

The “radio revolution” is often whipped up in the corridors of the I&B ministry only to be put down by home, finance, defence and external affairs.

Currently, there are 229 radio stations in the country — of which 207 are local and national stations of AIR and 22 are private FM stations.

Union I&B secretary Pawan Chopra said “the recommendations of the committee would be studied and our immediate reaction is that we welcome the direction but we will need to consult the law ministry and other offices”.

Explaining the recommendations, Mitra said the committee has recommended that licensees will share 4 per cent of their gross revenue with the government.

Other recommendations:

Multiple licensing will be allowed subject to conditions in cities where at least six licences for FM radio stations will be awarded. However, for news and current affairs, not more than one licence can be granted to a company

In line with the government policy on allowing foreign television companies to uplink, foreign direct investment in radio will be capped at 26 per cent. The equity held by the largest Indian shareholder will have to be at least 51 per cent. All key editorial staff and 75 per cent of the board of directors must be resident Indians

Companies that currently hold a licence can migrate to the new revenue-sharing regime subject to conditions. The licence-holders must pay up all their dues till July 24, 2003, but none will be penalised

News and current affairs would be permitted subject to AIR’s code of conduct

Till a broadcast regulator is appointed by law, the committee has suggested that an interim authority should be created.

The Amit Mitra committee comprised 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).

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