Television

FM task force for news on private channels

NEW DELHI: The FM radio task force, which is likely to submit its recommendations on radio broadcast policy, has more or less arrived at a consensus that future policies need to be liberal, including allowing news and current affairs to be aired on private FM channels.

The task force, which includes representation from industry and government, has discussed in detail the issue of allowing foreign investment in private FM radio and, in all probability, would recommend investment norms at par with those prevalent in the print and electronic news media.

"The core issue at the heart of the task force's deliberation is that everybody, including the private players, should be allowed to operate in the sector and in such a way that it makes business sense," a task force member and legendary radio jockey (if one can use the modern lingo for him) Ameen Sayani told indiantelevision.com.

Though Sayani did not divulge the exact nature of the recommendations that are likely to be made, he admitted, "Recommendations per se are not enough, the government has to accept the suggestions and work on them to make them effective."

At the moment, private FM radio channels are not allowed to broadcast any news and current affairs programming and are also barred from attracting any foreign investment, except FII portfolio investments as per the reserve bank of India guidelines.

Still, some government sources indicated that the task force, headed by Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) secretary-general Amit Mitra, has indicated to government officials that it favours a liberal policy regime that would help in giving a fillip to the growth of the industry.

"Allowing foreign investment in private FM radio ventures with riders and giving them some flexibility in programming where news and current affairs is concerned are some of the areas that the task force is likely to recommend," a government official said, adding that it is also being debated whether the government should go in for revenue sharing with the players concerned instead of auctioning licences.

The task force's contention, while making a case for news on private FM channels, would be that if All India Radio beefs up its content in this category, as is being envisaged by Prasar Bharati, then "news and current affairs programming on private FM radio channels may almost become redundant or less attractive from a commercial point of view."

It may be pointed out here that mere recommendations would not solve the problems of the radio industry as the government has to accept the recommendations and implement them through changes in policy. 

In the past it has been seen that high-powered committees had made various suggestions, including ways to improve fiunctioning of pubcasters Doordarshan and AIR, but the government had failed to act on the suggestions even as those reports gathered dust on various shelves in Shastri Bhavan in Delhi, which houses the I&B ministry.

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