FM radio: FinMin opinion may provide succour

NEW DELHI: The finance ministry is likely to advise the information and broadcasting ministry that the licence fee of private radio FM players could be kept in abeyance till a final view is taken on various related issues, including amending the present guidelines.

Though the expenditure secretary seems to have zeroed down on this option, another alternative before it is to suggest asking the private FM operators to pay partial licence fee, which would be lower than a full year's payment.

Government sources told today morning that the finance ministry's opinion on the issue, referred to it by the information and broadcasting ministry, may come in a day or two.

However, I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is personally of the opinion that even if the FinMin roots for deferment of licence fee --- in one case payable immediately, while in other cases time could be given up to 6 May --- the issue should be referred to the Election Commission as such a step by the outgoing government may be construed as a sop to the media industry and frowned upon by the poll regulator.

The ministry had issued notices to private companies running radio FM stations in four metros to pay the annual licence fee.

It is interesting to note that though The Times of India group company Entertainment Network (India) Limited, which manages Radio Mirchi FM stations, had moved a Mumbai court earlier this month seeking a stay on encashment of bank guarantee in case of non-payment of licence fee immediately, it was also one of the four signatories to a letter to I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on 22 April.

It is another thing that the Mumbai court had refused to entertain ENIL's plea.

According to the letter, a copy of which is available with, "In the face of severe financial haemorrhage, we would request you to give us a favourable consideration for holding in abeyance the payment of the annual licence fee in line with the interim recommendation of Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the broadcast and cable regulator)."

Apart from the Times group, the other signatories included Music Broadcast Pvt. Ltd. (operating Radio City), Radio Today Broadcasting Ltd. (operating Red FM from the India Today group) and Sun TV Limited.

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