The national campaign group for community radio, cr-India, is upping the volume on the long pending issue, urging the government to announce a policy permitting community radio in India.
More than 50,000 people from around the country, including academics, activists, civil society organisations, and rural communities, have signed a petition urging the Union Government to immediately announce a policy permitting community radio in India. These groups, under the aegis of the national campaign group cr-India, are seeking an appointment with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to submit the petition.
Meeting in Bangalore with the advocates of the three-tier system of broadcasting in India (with clearly demarcated public, private and community sectors) was Radio Sagarmatha station’s Raghu Mainali, the convener of the Save the Independent Radio movement of Nepal. Also present was Ashish Sen, director of the Indian station Voices, and head of AMARC - Asia Pacific (The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters).
Speaking to exchange4media, Sen said, “This is actually part of a larger meeting and a larger picture. Going beyond being an expression of solidarity, it is part of an effort to develop and explore mechanisms to strengthen community media, not just community radio. The process involves consultations among people from community media and academics in the field.”
The Asia Pac arm of AMARC, which Sen heads, is expected to help in taking the issue forward in different countries on three levels – ‘advocacy, networking and capacity building’. A judgement in 1995 by the Supreme Court of India declared airwaves to be public property, to be used for ‘public good and in public interest’. The government in India in 2003 had announced guidelines, but limited it to ‘established educational institutions’.
On the issues of concern relating to security, Sen said, “Internationally, and even in Asia, there are several examples of community radio being used for peace and development. We must use the existing codes and punish those who break the law. Absolute censorship is not the answer.”
Even as they await a legal framework to be put in place, rural communities across the country have taken to community radio by either ‘narrowcasting’ or using the space available on All India Radio. These include ‘Namma Dhwani’ in Budhikote (Karnataka), Deccan Development Society in Medak District (AP), Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (Gujarat), and Alternative for India Development in Daltonganj (Jharkhand).
cr-India cites that there are many other grassroots organisations waiting for a community radio policy to initiate similar projects in their regions, and they are optimistic of an early positive outcome.
Said Sen, “We believe it is in the final stages and request the government to look at the issue urgently. I would like to believe that it happens sooner than later – maybe in the earlier part of 2006.”
The earlier discussions on the issue have featured advertising on community radio, and one of the suggestions was to allow for five minutes of advertising per hour of programming to enable stations to create a revenue model. But news, admittedly, is part of a utopian agenda. For now, a legislation permitting community radio will be treated as good news by those advocating it.