Government aims to give community radio a leg-up

NEW DELHI: For the investors in radio projects, there is some good news. Stating that the government is trying to look into the investments made by entrepreneurs, the secretary, Information and Broadcasting ministry, government of India, said today that "we must look into how to help them realise their business projections on which the investments are based."

The government has decided to further liberalise norms for setting up Community Radio projects as the third arm of the radio policy that includes AIR and FM Radio channels to revolutionise the air waves and make radio entertaining, socially relevant and commercially viable.

Arora said this while inaugurating the seminar on "Indian Radio Industry: the way forward", organised by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). The seminar was the first interaction between industry and policy makers after the bids for Phase-II of FM Radio were finalised.

Arora said, "We are waiting for the results of the Phase-II policy and after a due process of consultation with the stakeholders, and will tweak the policy and then go Phase-III of the radio policy." He expressed satisfaction that in Phase-II, the number of radio stations was expected to jump from 20 to 270 by the end of the current fiscal year.

He said competition to AIR from private FM radio channels had given the government radio station a run for its money but expressed confidence that this would force the station to provide quality programme and the available infrastructure that would enable them to withstand competition. "We are trying mix and match the bouquets for the listeners and asking AIR to revive programmes like Hawamahal dramas and skits which were once the hallmarks of Akashwani.

Trai member AK Sawhney, noted that at while the process of roll-out of services by Phase-II licence is currently on, what is increasingly becoming clear is that the spectrum that was so far lying unutilised has the potential to allow a much greater variety in the offering of radio that was hitherto considered possible.

He said the focus of Trai has been to expand the markets, provide room for more services and more competition and to allow new technology to come in without fresh approvals being taken at every stage. A key element of the approach is to reduce the cost of licences and spectrum and also to push the industry towards a low price-high growth scenario. The focus of changes in the policy for Phase-III should be in tune with this approach, Sawhney pointed out.

ENIL Chairman FICCI Radio Forum and CEO and MD AP Parigi, empahsised the need for a continuing dialogue between all stakeholders so that the level of regulation can be decided on a consensual basis. Such dialogue, he said, would provide answers to questions of FDI and the participation of Indian financial institutions (FIs) in the growth of the FM Radio industry.

FICCI Secretary General Dr Amit Mitra, said the radio industry which was Rs 2,400 million in 2004 is expected to grow to Rs 12,000 million by 2010, representing a 32 per cent growth CAGR when the entire media and entertainment industry is slated to grow at 19 per cent CAGR. This makes the radio industry the fastest growing medium in the media and entertainment sector.

He announced the launch of the FICCI Radio forum under the chairmanship of Parigi. Among other objectives, the Forum will seek to consolidate the radio industry for effective lassoing with the government, promote interface of the industry with significant international players, support R&D in radio technology and provide facilitation, guidance and interface with government and key radio players for new start-ups.

During the interactive session on "Regulatory Framework on Radio Industry", Neil Curry of BBC expounded on the system that governs broadcasting in the UK, said that there are parallels from and lessons to be drawn from the model that has been developed in Britain. The main aim of the regulatory body should be to ensure freedom of speech from economic and political forces. He also emphasised in the UK, the key aspect of regulation is now shifted focus from outlet (that is what audiences hear) rather than input.

T Sengupta Associates CEO Tamali Sengupta who was the moderator for the second session, asked a seminal question that somehow got buried later: through seeking a voice vote, she remarked that radio was loosing the youth factor, and that most young me were not listening to radio, rather choosing to use on-demand technology like the iPod.
Issue of FDI and FII cropped up during the interactive session.

Most speakers felt that radio was being discriminated against vis-à-vis the print medium since the latter had a FDI/FII cap of 26 per cent, where as radio had a cap of 30 per cent.
Rajiv Sethi, S&R Associates, also raised the issue why private radio FM channels are debarred from hosting news and current affairs programmes. "All the FM channel owners are cleared by the ministry of home affairs in any case, and they have paid a 10-year licensing fee, so why they are debarred from hosting news programmes, whereas the TV channels are not, defies logic."

A major section of the debate in this session related to the upcoming broadcasting bill 2006. Questions were raised about the Code of Conduct, and speakers said that since the Supreme Court of India has been issuing orders that have more or less crystalised a sort of code of conduct, is there a need to have a fresh one. One of the major recurring irritants that surfaced was that the proposed bill is more biased towards the TV industry rather than the radio, and it was also stated that the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority proposed does not encapsulate the orders of the Supreme Court.

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