Regulators

EC endorses prompt payment of FM license fees

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NEW DELHI: The Election Commissions uttering may not be music to the ears of the financially-beleaguered private radio FM companies operating stations in several cities of the country. But it has also put a question mark on the validity of the broadcast and cable regulators existence and recommendations.

The election regulator, in charge of overseeing the conduct of elections in India, a process that is underway at the moment, today afternoon observed that keeping in abeyance the licence fee payment of FM radio companies would amount to breach of model code of conduct during polls. This was in response to a query from the information and broadcasting ministry.

I&B ministry bureaucrats today said that private FM players may stand to lose their bank guarantees if the licence fee are not paid up by Friday.

This means that the licence fee, which became payable on 30 April, would have to be coughed up. Even a weeks grace period that is generally given under such circumstances gets over on 7 May.The licence fee of all the private radio FM players put together would amount to approximately Rs 700 million (Rs 70 crore), according to estimates put forth by bureaucrats in the information and broadcasting ministry.

This is a line that had been maintained by the bureaucracy, which had even made noting on files concerned to this effect. The cabinet secretary, earlier, had observed that any change in the present guidelines would need a Cabinet clearance, which at this stage is not prudent as it would attract model code of conduct during polls.

The finance ministry, to which the issue had been referred last week, put the ball back in the I&B ministrys court, saying it was up to the I&B ministry to take a call on the recommendations made by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

Government officials told indiantelevision.com that only the new government could justifiably take up the issue of deferment of licence fee of radio FM companies through a process that is likely to be time consuming.

As and when the new government is formed, the issue (of FM radio) would be taken up afresh, studied and then a cabinet note would be prepared. The whole process could take up to three months as radio FM may not be the top priority for the new government, a senior official explained.

The matter of license fee payment by FM operators in the country has been moving from ministry to ministry for the last two weeks, even as operators sought relief from the crushing fees that fell due in the last week of April.

While the Entertainment Network run Radio Mirchi tried to seek legal succour from the Mumbai high court last week and failed, the Millennium Broadcast operated Win downed shutters, protesting the high license fees and demanding a more rational model. The latest to join the bandwagon is Radio Mid-day, which too has sought legal recourse and relief from the Mumbai HC. The case has not been heard yet.

All private FM players are keenly watching each other's moves as well as waiting for the government's next step, which could well decide private FM radio's fate in the country.

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