Govt to seek EC view on FM imbroglio

NEW DELHI: In a bid to buy time, which would also result in some benefit to the private FM players, the Indian government proposes to refer the issue to the Election Commission after the finance ministry airs its view on the matter.

According to sources in the information and broadcasting ministry, the finance ministry's views on the issue were not available till 1 pm on Wednesday. But, it was pointed out, that whatever may be the stand, the issue would be referred to the election regulator as the "government does not want to take any steps that would raise the hackles of the opposition parties or the EC."

This step, some observers felt, is likely to benefit the private FM players who would gain more time after the deadline of 29 April for paying up fee for renewal of licence, expires.

Now, if the government refers the issue of licence fee for FM radio stations to the EC in the first week of May, there is a possibility that the election regulator may not like to take any stand on the issue as the last of the votes would be polled on 10 May, which would leave very little time for a decision to have any effect on anybody, including the private FM players.

Why? "As long as the issue is kept referred to various parties, not even the strictest of bureaucrats could demand licence fee from private FM companies or compel them to go off the air," a government source close to the whole issue opined, indicating that the outgoing government would not like to upset media companies in the last phase or the slog overs of the election process.

It was a part of this game plan that made the I&B ministry refer the FM radio case to the finance ministry yesterday, even though the issue had been brought to the notice of I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad last month, as reported by then.

Still, not content with writing a petition to Prasad on the licence fee issue ---- four FM companies were signatories --- Entertainment Network India Limited, which runs Radio Mirchi has taken the legal route. Its petition seeks to restrain the government from attaching its bank guarantee in the event of non-payment of license fees by 29 April.

The total amount of licence fee payable by the existing players is in the region of Rs 1 billion.

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