Television

Government unlikely to allow news on private FM

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NEW DELHI: Even as the government is waiting for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) to come up with fresh recommendations on FM radio, the thinking within the government is that the sector can be opened up to foreign investment, like done in the TV and print medium.

However, the government, which would have the final say on any recommendations as its involves framing a policy, is unlikely to allow news and current affairs programming on private FM radio stations.

According to senior government official, "Trai has been asked to look into the FM radio sector as a regulator for the broadcasting and cable industry, but the government has more or less firmed up its mind on certain issues like allowing up to 26 per cent foreign investment in private FM radio ventures."

If the government decides on allowing foreign investment, which, at the moment, is restricted to portfolio investments by foreign financial institutions, it would bring the radio segment too at par with the norms prevailing in other sectors of the media like in TV and print.

In the news category, in both the print and TV media, foreign investment up to 26 per cent is allowed with riders that are aimed at assuring the control remains fully in Indian hands.

While allowing news and current affairs to be liberally broadcast over the electronic medium like TV, the thinking is that such a policy cannot be allowed in the private sector radio segment as it could compromise national security - a line of thinking that has been panned by critics.

But what is surprising is that mandating Trai to look into the FM radio sector would mean, in a way, junking the recommendations of the Dr Amit Mitra panel, which had been set up by the government itself to make suggestions before the second phase of privatisation of FM radio is started.

According to information available with indiantelevision.com, TRAI would start the whole process all over again by issuing consultation papers for the industry. This process is likely to take a couple of months by which time a new government is also likely to be saddled in Delhi.

The industry itself was hopeful that the government would amend the existing FM radio policy to make it more investor friendly. The India Today Group's chief, Aroon Purie, recently had told indiantelevision.com that the present policy needs to be liberalised further so as to arrest the financial bleeding of private radio companies. India Today Group runs three FM radio stations, including Delhi and Mumbai, under the brand name Red FM.

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