Although there’s a view within the government that ‘news’ should not be permitted in private FM radio, citing security concerns, the Cabinet decision may go against this thinking. Even as the information and broadcasting ministry is finalising its recommendations for the second phase of FM radio privatisation, government sources said ‘news’ is likely to be allowed, despite objections from certain quarters. So far, news is not permitted in private FM radio.
Government has always been cagey about allowing news, both in private TV and radio. The recent controversy around uplinking permission to Rupert Murdoch’s Star News channel is only too well known, where a tie-up with Kolkata-based Ananda Bazar Patrika resolved the issue. While in the case of television news, the concern was mainly regarding foreign-ownership, in private FM radio, there’s apprehension that small players could “misuse” the freedom by broadcasting volatile information as ‘news’.
However, sources in the industry close to the development are calling this reasoning “baseless”. According to a member in the expert committee, if there’s apprehension about small players misusing the freedom to air news, the same fear should apply in the print industry as well. He said: “Even in a small town like Aligarh, hundreds of newspapers are published. Where’s the check there?”
An expert committee, headed by Ficci secretary general Amit Mitra, and set up at the behest of the I&B ministry, had more than two months ago, made a presentation to the government on the second phase of FM radio. I&B ministry recommendations are based on the expert committee presentation.
Currently, government is gearing up to take the draft guidelines to the Union Cabinet. The exercise has gained momentum ahead of Lok Sabha elections.
Revenue-sharing with government, permission for news and current affairs programmes, and 26 per cent FDI on par with news and current affairs TV channels, are among the recommendations of the expert committee.
The expert committee was set up after the existing players in private FM, including Bennett Coleman and Living Media, protested against the steep licensing fee and foreign investment restriction in radio ventures.
Among other things, the committee is of the view that the open auction bid process was not suitable for auctioning of frequencies, and has recommended the process of tendering.