The Group of Ministers (GoM), which has been assigned the task of ironing out differences within the Union Cabinet on amendments to the community radio regime, has cleared the changes proposed by the Union Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry in India. This includes the contentious issue of allowing advertisements on such radio stations.
Headed by Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, the GoM was set up in October 2005 after some members in the Cabinet expressed reservations about the proposal to allow limited advertising on community radio stations. The I&B Ministry had suggested that the stations be allowed to generate revenue through advertisements and sponsored programmes, those backed by Central and State Governments and of public interest.
As against the existing policy wherein no advertising is allowed on such stations, the Ministry wants five minutes an hour of transmission to be dedicated to localised advertising so that such stations can generate revenue to meet running costs. Besides advertising, one of the major changes proposed by the I&B Ministry pertains to allowing educational institutions, other than those within the government set-up, and non-profit organisations to run community radio stations. Other changes include increasing the licence period from three to five years and having an inter-ministerial committee headed by the I&B Secretary as a single-window clearance system for government-run educational institutions. In the case of non-government applicants, the Ministry has said that if the necessary clearances do not come from the Ministries concerned – Home, Communications and Human Resource Development in the case of private educational institutions – within three months, it would be deemed that they have no objection and the inter-ministerial committee would clear the application.
While the country has a capacity to let out 50,000 frequencies for community radio, the Ministry has set its eyes on letting out 4,000 frequencies over the next four years by having a more liberal regime. It also envisages graded punishment for violations instead of the current threat of revocation/termination/suspension of licences.