FM radio:I&B in favour of news, FDI

NEW DELHI: Information and broadcasting ministry proposes; the home ministry disposes.

This could well be the case relating to news and current affairs programming on private FM radio stations as the two ministries slug it out over the issue. Third umpire, the Union Cabinet, is yet to deliver its verdict.

A senior official of the information and broadcasting ministry today admitted that the ministry has proposed in a Cabinet note that news and current affairs shows be allowed on private FM radio stations.

The rationale extended by the I&B ministry is that since news is allowed on privately run TV channels, it would be unfair to restrict private FM radio broadcasters, which may effect the bottomline of such ventures.

However, the I&B ministry official said that there is strong opposition to this proposal from the home ministry, which is of the opinion that such radio stations, difficult to monitor, could report to airing anti-national propaganda material.

At present, only national radio broadcaster, All India Radio, is permitted to air news on its network consisting of AM and FM channels, while private players, claiming heavy financial losses, have been lobbying hard to have the restrictions imposed on them removed.

Though flimsy as it may appear, home ministry's opinion has been included in a Cabinet note prepared by the I&B ministry on radio broadcast policy. The Union Cabinet is expected to discuss the changes in the policy in one of its meetings early next week, amongst other issues.

"Though we are in favour of allowing news and current affairs programmes on private FM radio stations, the issue will be discussed and finalized by the Cabinet," the I&B ministry official hopefully said, adding, "Opinion of other ministers on the matter too is important."

The I&B ministry is also in favour of allowing foreign direct investment, as an overall part of foreign investment package to be capped at 20 per cent, in FM radio ventures.

An expert committee set up by the I&B ministry under Dr. Amit Mitra's chairmanship had suggested, amongst other things, that news and current affairs programmes should be allowed on private FM radio stations. This point was later supported by broadcast regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, too.

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