Radio FM cos. push for quick policy change

NEW DELHI: A delegation of private FM radio players met information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy, today, to exhort him to expedite work on the recommendations for expansion of the second phase of FM radio in the country. But, they only got a patient hearing from the minister sans any assurances on any subject.

Though there were several issues involved, but, as The India Today Group promoter Aroon Purie told, the main one was that of payment of the licence fee that became first payable on 30 April. The second deadline is 12 June, which has been set by a dispute redressal tribunal.

"There is no question of not paying the licence fee (for four months). We will," Purie said, adding, "But the main issue is to take forward the second phase of FM radio expansion for which the government has to give us certain directions."

An ITG company, Radio Today Network, runs FM radio stations in several cities.

The private FM radio players had been lobbying for waiver of the licence fee till the government took a final view on recommendations made by an expert panel on FM radio policy, which included issues like revenue sharing, foreign investment in the sector and allowing of news and current affairs programming on private stations.

Failing to get some assurances from the previous government because of the announcement of election dates (when no policy decision of consequence could be taken), the FM radio companies had moved the court and subsequently TDSAT, a dispute redressal tribunal under the sector regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. The tribunal had ruled that the companies would have to pay up four months licence fee as an interim measure.

Pointing out that it was too early for Reddy to give assurances, Entertainment Network (India) Ltd. MD AP Parigi, said, "We apprised the minister of the issues involved and requested him to see that the ministry takes a final view on the expert panel's recommendation soon." The company manages Radio Mirchi.

The delegation also included Bennett, Coleman & Co. MD Vineet Jain, Mid-day group's Tariq Ansari and representatives from Radio City and Sun group.

Asked about the losses that the private FM radio players would be incurring, Purie said that the combine losses of the players concerned would be "between Rs. 1,500- Rs. 2,000 million." Added Jain, "Individual losses would look huge if the subsidies extended by the respective parent companies are withdrawn."

By subsidies, Jain means the in-house group advertising that is made available to most FM radio stations. For example, technically, a Star Plus ad on Radio City or a Times of India ad on Radio Mirchi cannot really be termed as revenue as they have been extended by parent companies.

A government official later said that some of the FM radio companies have paid up the licence fee as per the tribunal ruling.

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