Community radio stations in the country must be allowed to carry advertisements, according to players in the segment. They have made a plea to the government for the same. Community radio was opened up for educational institutions two years ago, but only as non-commercial ventures.
According to an official in the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, government is not closed to the idea of permitting ads on community radio stations. “But, these stations are meant for a particular purpose, and therefore commercials cannot be allowed freely. Perhaps, ads in the category of public service endorsements could be considered.”
Director of Audio Visual Research Centre at Anna University, R Sridher, told FE that on an average, a community radio station spends Rs 20 lakh a year, and that funding is a major issue.
A recent consultation paper issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) also focused on the issue of funding community radio stations. “Government, NGOs, social organisations could all be explored for the purpose,” the Trai paper points out. Significantly, it added that “advertising should also not be ruled out.”
Besides advertising, community radio players have also emphasised on the need for powerful transmitters (at least 1 KW, as against 50 watts now). Also, they want the height of towers to be around 100 metres, up from the current 30 metres.
On the issue of ads, radio consultant Sunil Kumar said: “Limited amount of support from corporates would be enough to cover the cost for community radio stations.” He favours sponsorship of stations, rather than selling of airtime.
“It should be like in the Olympics—a few corporates supporting the event,” Mr Kumar said.
The Trai consultation paper refers to countries like Canada, Australia, Ireland and South Africa. These countries allow four to six minutes of advertising per hour in community radio, the paper states. Then, there are countries which have devised ways to check over-commercialisation of community radio. For instance, the Kuai Community Radio of Hanalei, Hawaii, broadcasts announcements/statements with 15 words or less from local business. Similarly, the North East Access Radio of Dublin permits sponsorship announcements, with some restrictions.
Chennai’s Anna University is the only community radio player in the country now. Currently, airwaves for community radio are reserved only for educational institutions in India, though Trai feels that its scope should be widened.
In the last two years, the government received 55 applications from educational institutions; frequencies have been earmarked for 17 applicants; and letter of intent issued to 12.
The first community radio station of the country at Anna University became operational in February 2004.