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Community radio licence at last opens up for NGOs

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The Community radio opening up will allow NGOs to apply for licences without a license fee and to carry five minutes of advertising per hour of broadcasting.

From the beginning of the 21st century constant lobbying for opening up community radio (since thousands of frequencies remain unutilised) has helped to erode the steadfast opposition from ministries such as Home Affairs. The year 2002 saw the NDA government announce that educational institutions would get licences.  Few applications were forthcoming since colleges and universities are not those who feel the most need to utilise community radio, it is civil society bodies that are the most keen to use the medium. So the concept of a second phase which would open up the medium to non governmental organisations was floated.

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In October last year the UPA government postponed a decision on the issue by referring the matter to a group of ministers who took a full year to give their assent to a comprehensive  proposal which will now have to go to the cabinet for clearance. But people within the ministry suggest that it is as good as done barring a last minute hitch. And what we will get then by way of a community radio policy will be the most liberal so far.   

First, non-governmental organizations with a record of at least three years of community service will be permitted to apply  for licenses, and these will be given free of cost.  It will still be an enormously centralised process. You apply to the ministry of information and broadcasting in Delhi, and wait for various ministries to give their clearance. But a three month wait is not so bad, because at least this time the policy will say that if the ministries concerned do not respond in that period clearance will be deemed to have been given. It is significant that while registered voluntary organisations will be permitted to apply, panchayats and trade unions will not be granted licenses. However, it is also significant that self help groups will probably be included in the categories eligible for a license.

Having decided to open up radio frequencies to the NGO sector enabling provisions are also being worked out. First, the big step forward has been to permit five minutes per hour  of advertising on these community stations. This was one of the points of contention which lead to the policy being referred to the group of ministers.

The frequencies that have been identified  to begin will be 90.4, 90.8 and 91.2 MHZ, or thereabouts. Thousands of frequencies around the country can technically be allocated, but repeater stations will not be permitted at this stage.    

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