I&B's proposal for community radio expansion referred to GoM

NEW DELHI: In yet another move highlighting the inadequacy of the information and broadcasting ministry to push through changes in media legislation, the Union Cabinet today referred to a group of ministers (GoM) its proposals for expansion of community radio in the country.

This is the third proposal of the I&B ministry, apart from the uplink and downlink policies, which has been referred to a GoM for wider discussions.

"The Cabinet today considered and referred the scheme for the second phase community radio to a GoM. This GoM will be different from the one on downlinking policies," information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy told reporters here today.

He said the first phase of community radio, which was started in 2002, has not taken off and remained confined to colleges and deemed universities for a variety of reasons.

In the new scheme, the I&B ministry has proposed that community radio should be allowed to generate revenue with five minutes of commercials in an hour of programming. The scheme should also be opened for non-profit organisations and civil society organisations, he said.

Presently, the government allows only educational institutions to set up community radio.

"It was also proposed that the range of the community radio be

increased from 5-10 km at present to 10-15 km so that it is beneficial to a greater number of people," Reddy said, adding the range cannot be increased further as it could then clash with FM radio. learns that allowing advertisements on community radio services is one of the contentious issues raised by the finance ministry. The contention: if the community radio service provider is not paying any fee for starting the service, unlike FM radio operators who have to dish out a licence fee, the rationale for allowing them to earn ad revenue needs to be examined.

Apart from this, the usual suspicion of national-security-could-get-compromised has been raised too.

The community radio GoM, which is likely to have Reddy, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran, among others as members, would also discuss security issues concerning the scheme, the I&B minister admitted.

The broadcast regulator has recommended that licences for operating community radio up to a maximum of 50 watt transmitter power should be granted for a period of three years with the licencees furnishing a bank guarantee of only

Rs 50,000, since community radio broadcasting has to operate on non-commercial basis.

Meanwhile, replying to a question on the uplink and downlink policies, Reddy said that another GoM had submitted its report to the ministry, which will be now studied by his ministry before being taken again to the Cabinet.

Reddy did not give any time frame for this to happen, saying it should happen "very soon."

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