At last

Published: Saturday 15 October 2005

-- New Guidelines India

In what could be a huge boon to independent radio efforts, the Union government recently announced its intention to allow low-power fm radio stations to broadcast both local news and advertisements; broadcasting licences will also be extended to non-government organisations, who were earlier not given permission to venture on air. The announcement by Union information and broadcasting (i & b) minister, Jaipal Reddy reversed previous policy guidelines that many had complained were strangling India's nascent community radio (cr) movement. In recent weeks, Reddy has repeatedly noted that cr has a "great future" in India.

Previous national guidelines by a security-concerned i & b ministry -- in December 2002 -- horrified cr advocates. Broadcasting of news was prohibited, so were matters related to public affairs. Desperately-needed advertising was similarly proscribed. Small-scale licences were also paradoxically reserved for "well-established" academic institutions. Public broadcasting supporters have since regularly emphasised the Supreme Court's 1995 decision which stipulated that "airwaves must be utilised for advancing public good".

Two years after these guidelines, there was a new government at the Centre. And the new i & b ministry seemed keen on cr. I n May 2004, it convened an unprecedented public workshop. Media professionals gathered in Delhi to put forth recommendations for a more open set of guidelines. The workshop emphasised that cr does not have the distribution or the literacy needs of print, nor is it as expensive as television and radio.

Going by Reddy's announcements, it seems that the Union government is acting on the workshop's recommendations. With only 260 radio stations --only ten of which are cr projects -- India could shortly be positioned for an explosion in this most democratic of media.

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