While the union budget 2014-15 brought a lot of good news for most of the industries in terms of tax holidays and duty cuts; it was a bit disappointing to see nothing significant for the private FM radio industry. Among other things we were expecting the Finance Minister to address the issue of the delay in implementing Phase III. The only relieving point was the Rs 100 crore allocation for the community radio sector.
We have been working with old policies and laws which are in desperate need to be reviewed to account for changing times. TRAI recommendations in February 2014 came as a ray of hope. The tribunal recommended a 15-year license period and considered the migration fees based on the availability of channels in a particular city. It was also pleasant to see that the cut off date for migration has been put as March 31, 2015, which means that the auctions have to happen before that date so that the migration formula can be applied smoothly. In this scenario, we expected the government to bring some concrete views in Budget 2014 for the radio industry because the industry cannot move forward and plan its future without clarity on Phase III.
Over the last few years, the acceptance of radio as a medium has grown. Especially in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, the consumption of radio has grown multifold. With this kind of growth, we want the government to raise the level of FDI in private radio sector which is 20 per cent presently. We expect that the government will soon allow at least 26 per cent FDI in the radio industry as private radio operators also want to feel at par with other mediums.
It is high time that we re-look at the rules that bar private FM radio channels from broadcasting news and current affairs. Radio, being the most accessible medium, is in fact the most suitable for mass dissemination of news and information. Indian FM stations are an anomaly in that sense as none of their counterparts in USA, Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Australia face such restrictions.
In true terms, the radio is a local medium, an open medium, a medium that's almost entirely owned and run by Indians. However, for some strange reason, it is looked at as a threat to national security when it comes to broadcasting news. There is a degree of paranoia here that most professional broadcasters find difficult to understand.
We do hope that the government will soon bring a welcome change on such restrictions and Phase III and radio will get its long overdue share of consideration.