In the midst of elections, finance minister Jaswant Singh has refused to play referee over the FM radio licence issue. Mr Singh has tossed the matter back to information and broadcasting (I&B) minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, sources told FE. Mr Prasad had sought Mr Singh’s guidance earlier this week, on whether to extend the deadline for payment of FM radio annual licence fee. The FM wants I&B to firm up a view.
The I&B ministry, on its part, is preparing to alert the Election Commission (EC), as an extension of deadline could be interpreted as a violation of code of conduct by the watchdog, a ministry source said.
Private FM players across the metros owe the government over Rs 100 crore as this year’s licence fee. The deadline expired on April 29. None of the players coughed up a penny.
Firming up a view is likely to pose a problem. Mr Prasad and his bureaucrats differ over the FM deadline issue. While the minister supports the regulator’s recommendation on extending the deadline, officials in his ministry have refused to take a lenient stand.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), which has the additional responsibility of the broadcasting sector, recently recommended extending the deadline for payment of fee till a new set of rules are introduced for the FM sector.
FM players, including Entertainment Network India Ltd, Music Broadcast Pvt Ltd, Radio Mid-day and Radio Today, are expecting softer rules for the sector.
A committee headed by Ficci secretary-general Amit Mitra recommended a migration package for the players, from a licence fee to a revenue-sharing regime, among other softer norms. The recommendations came in November 2003, but Mr Prasad couldn’t get them converted into policy before the model code of conduct came into force.