In what seems to be a change in heart, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has agreed to consider allowing sports, news and current affairs programming in private FM radio. It has also agreed to consider allowing players to form consortiums with a single brand name as a marketing arrangement.
Till now, the I&B Ministry had been insisting that due to the difficulty in monitoring 300-odd stations, news and current affairs could not be allowed on FM radio. The ICE (Information, Communication and Entertainment) Committee set up by the government had also recommended allowing of news and current affairs on FM stations.
A reliable radio industry source said that FM radio representatives under the aegis of AROI (Association of Radio Operators of India) met I&B Ministry officials on October 23, 2006, to discuss issues and problems concerning the industry. When the issue of news and current affairs came up, the I&B Ministry said that in principle it had no objection to FM stations carrying news and current affairs. The ministry has asked AROI to submit a formal application on this so that it could be taken forward. However, the issue has to be cleared by the Cabinet.
The radio industry also demanded that FM players be allowed to operate under a single brand name when they form consortiums. They argued that this would help small players get national corporate advertisements. The Ministry said that it was open to it and would look into the tender policy before allowing it.
This seems to be a move to enable consolidation in the radio industry. The policy at present does not allow any buyout of radio stations before completion of five years of operations, neither does it permit a big player to have more than 15 per cent of the total operating FM stations.
Players like BAG (Radio Masti), Adlabs Radio (Big FM) and South Asia FM have already formed consortiums. BAG’s consortium has small players like Reneka Fincom, ITM, Pudhari Publications, and Positive Radio, while Big FM has tied up with Century Communication. Sun TV-owned South Asia FM has also formed a consortium with Red FM. Interestingly, Century Communication has the same frequency (92.7 MHz) as Adlabs Radio, while South Asia FM has the same frequency as Red FM (93.5 MHz). If the demand is met, these players could use a single brand name and consolidate their business as and when the government permits.
AROI also demanded that a player be allotted different frequencies, if it so demands, in case two of its FM stations which had the same frequency were situated at a distance of less than 100 km. The radio body held that in such cases, interference between the two frequencies occurred due to jammer. Previously, AROI had demanded single frequency for players with multiple radio stations, which the government had agreed to.
The radio players also raised concern over non-clarity about completion of CTI (Common Transmission Infrastructure) in various cities. They demanded that BECIL should give its schedule as to which station would be ready on which date, so that they could plan launch dates accordingly. BECIL agreed to give a detailed schedule within 15 days’ time.