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Radio fails to tune into right frequency

11-October-2004
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Radio fails to tune into right frequency

Given the Congress uproar at the General Elections and the party’s subsequent rise into power, what has been the impact on the radio industry? Is it still amounting to a process of endless negotiations and lack of a concrete initiative? Is political leadership perhaps shadowing the potential of this industry? To find answers to many such queries, exchange4media looked back in the history and reached out to some of the industry experts.

In July 2003, the Union I&B Ministry set up Radio Broadcast Policy Committee, under the chairmanship of FICCI’s Amit Mitra, to work out a ‘transparent and effective auction process’ for allotment of radio frequencies. While the committee was entirely focused on commercial radio, there were some token references to policy for niche and non-commercial channels in its terms of reference. The committee brought out a report whose main concern was to ease the way for private FM broadcasters to switch from a license-fee regime to a revenue sharing system.

In a more recent scheme of events, in 2004, New Delhi brought broadcasting under the definition of ‘telecommunication services’, effectively making the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India the regulator for both radio and television. A month later, the ministry sent the Mitra Committee report to Trai, seeking ‘appropriate recommendations’.

Now that the recommendations have been made, elaborate deliberations are occurring on the same front. While it amounts to all reactions and no action from the ministry, there haven’t been sustained efforts from the private FM camp as well, claim certain quarters.

Says AP Parigi, MD, Entertainment Network and CEO of Times Infotainment, “All politicians in this country are aware of the problems that the radio industry is facing. The new government may be over a hundred days old, but it fully comprehends that the current system of licensing is slowly eroding all private FM stations. We have had intense talks with the government in the past, but post TRAI recommendations, there have been continued and lengthy deliberations on the part of the ministry and players are not too clear about the headway achieved on the same. Some part of the same could be attributed to the key players of the industry itself. A big regret is the inability to get the entire radio group to sit together on a regular basis and thrash out common issues.”

He continues, “Back in 2001, thanks to the McKinsey reports, we had brought in all the operators on a common platform via video conferencing to deal in an in-depth basis with the menace of licensing. With time, it’s become increasingly difficult to come together and to sort out issues such as licensing, octroi, service tax etc. So, now you find competition pulling off from certain areas, some have given notices to shut down and there are others that have actually shut down. By now, you should have had at least 400 radio stations in India. And here we are…looking at who’s going to shut down next.”

Despite all this, Parigi is hopeful to see some pro-active actions from the government’s side. He states, “I am a positive person, and I’m sure that our efforts would yield to some noteworthy reforms from the government’s side which would pave way to some other form of revenue sharing, rather than the current licensing regime.”

Talking to exchange4media, a Radio Mid-Day spokesperson asserts, “Things are in a flux at the moment with the government deliberating over the Trai recommendations and the lack of a solid foundation as far as players are concerned. It would be a lot more beneficial to the industry as a whole if we had a committee for the radio industry, which could look after the overall interests and lobby hard on the government’s front. After the elections things are in a standstill with no clear action being taken from either party. In plain language, the radio industry is still stuck in a limbo.”

Jagadesh Babu, Financial Controller, Music Broadcast Private Limited (Radio City), asserts, “We are still waiting for the opinion of the I&B Ministry on the recommendations from the task force and Trai. It is my belief that the private FM players have been working very hard to put together a united front and to represent the problems to the ministry over the last few years – a fact which has remained unchanged even in recent times. As far as the committee beat is concerned, in order to organise the category better, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation has set up a radio sub committee and is keen to represent the private FM radio group.”

However, as one looks deep into the Indian radio industry, lots of interesting things keep coming up. In August 1953, BV Keskar, a puritanical minister in charge of the information and broadcasting domain, delivered a broadside on commercial broadcasting. Commercial radio, as he said, would fall into the clutches of foreign interests and become a slave to advertising revenue. These forces, Keskar had warned, were “bound to bring down the quality of radio programmes and convert them into a cheap vaudeville show”. Long fifty years have gone. Commercial radio is back on its agenda, but it is still lying unresolved.

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