The answer to the question in the headline: no one. The top guns in the Government’s Information and Broadcasting Ministry spend disproportionate time on television. Print is important, especially the news media, but who really cares about radio. Successive I&B Ministers haven’t paid much attention to shape the future of radio. Ambika Soni, who holds the portfolio, as you read this, may be earnest about her job and hasn’t rushed into any bizarre policy statements, but sadly doesn’t appear to be taking any dramatic steps to improve the business.
Take the case of news and current affairs on private FM. At the high powered India Economic Summit of the World Economic Forum, Soni said that news would be allowed as long as it was sourced from All India Radio. I guess the sourcing would mean that it can be repackaged and made zingier, but, surely, the Government must find it lucky that no radio station owner has taken it to court.
Minister Soni told me a few months back that the FM folk should be happy with AIR feeds (this recommendation of sourcing the news from AIR is not new, it was mooted last year, and is being implemented now). While I have a huge regard for the work that AIR has done in the past, and I also believe that Akashvani news is doing yeoman’s service in non-metro India, which doesn’t have quality local television or print news, the requirements of FM radio are different.
According to sources in the I&B Ministry, the Home Ministry has objections to self-generated news on radio. Strange. If all and sundry can set up television stations and/or cable networks across the country, then there is decidedly no reason why radio listeners should be deprived. Imagine an Aaj Tak or NDTV being asked to source news from Doordarshan alone. Note, many of the private news television channels have foreign ownership/ investment or are run by people whose track record is hugely suspect.
I have another answer to the question raised in the headline. Even a large number of FM players don’t really care enough about news on radio. The spends on newsgathering can be high and those who have interests in other media may find radio taking away some of the retail revenues, but the opportunities that news on radio will throw up are enormous. If the radiowallahs had really lobbied hard – as they did with the music royalty issue – I’m certain they could’ve got Soni to allay fears of the Home Ministry and allow FM players to generate news.
Ditto with the FDI hike. While 20 per cent was ridiculously low, raising it to 26 per cent (as has been indicated) is pointless. We should’ve seen it upped to a minimum of 49 per cent.
It’s vital that the Government of India helps in the growth of the radio. There ought to be a good, long-term vision to grow the medium. If the measures confirmed by the Minister yesterday are all that we’re going to get, then we’re going nowhere. Time for those who matter to flex their muscles. Else, pack your bags. Jaago Re!
(The views expressed here are personal. Post your comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)