New Delhi, April 2: Community radio stations are fuming at what they see as a double whammy from the government: a diktat to publicise its flagship social schemes and an attempt to monitor the content being aired.
The community radio stations have been "advised" to base their programmes around Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet schemes such as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao and Jan Dhan Yojana, Union information and broadcasting ministry officials said.
The directive was issued "informally" to about 180 radio stations two weeks ago. Many stations and radio associations see it as a government ploy to use them for its own propaganda.
"The government probably sees community radio as the last-mile connection with local communities and wants to flag the schemes," said Vinod Pavarala, president of the Community Radio Forum and Unesco chair on community media at the University of Hyderabad.
The Modi government has announced a Rs 100-crore fund to support community radio stations and has picked 20 stations for aid. But many say that any funds that come with a rider to promote government schemes would amount to arm-twisting.
A government directive asking 30 local radio stations in and around Delhi to submit recordings of their broadcasts too has upset the industry.
"We are here to do community service, not to spread anti-social or treacherous messages," said a community radio owner who has received this instruction. "This betrays a bias and the government's distrust."
Ministry officials said the instructions were part of a larger radio-monitoring programme the government was trying to put in place.
"Since the radio industry has been pushing for allowing news, it is important to assess the content they are airing," an official said.
Only Kisan Vikas Kendras, academic institutions and NGOs are allowed in the community radio sector, which is barred from airing news or current affairs shows.
The stations can air five minutes of ads - mostly government ads - every hour at the fixed rate of Rs 4 per second. Most radio centres say the government's irregular bill payments forces them to depend on their parent organisations for funding.