DL: Roadblocks hit community radio

New Delhi:Months after India opened up low-powered FM radio broadcasting tocommunity groups, those eligible to apply for licenses are finding manyroadblocks and a shortage of skills in a field dominated by thegovernment for generations. In November 2006, the government gave thegreen signal to community radio stations, opening what some noted was apotent power in local broadcasting. Some two and a half months later,officialdom is currently finalising application forms for applying toset up FM community radio stations, under a policy which will open upbroadcasting to educational institutions, agricultural centers, andnon-profits or NGOs though under some stringent conditions. Trainingfor those intending to run the tiny, mostly low-cost stations, and thebest mix of technology available were high on the list of challengesfacing such attempts, during a two-day national consultation held onthe subject by campaign groups and individuals in Delhi.

Prior to this, educational institutions were allowed to runcampus-radio like initiatives. But these too have not beenproblem-free. “Our electronics department built its own (radio)transmitter for Rs.600 that can reach up to a distance of five km. Butwe were told to buy one through the licensed dealer. After payingRs.100, 000, the dealer is asking for the license before delivery,while the officials say we need to get the equipment first to get thelicence,” said Principal Newman Fernandes of Goa’s St. Xavier’sCollege. Many other issues hit grass root media campaigners in theirface. With its “no-news” policy and other restrictions, community radioremains one of the Indian media’s tightly controlled segments, asagainst a very large measure of freedom for the print media.

Spreadingthe message is also another important concern. Since radio has beenlargely government-run in India, and opened to commercial FM since the1990s, most cannot even imagine of the possibilities of community-runradio stations. “People simply don’t understand what community radiois. The closest they get to it is confusing it with HAM radio,” saidKanchan Kumar, lecturer at the Hyderabad-based Sarojini Naidu School ofPerforming Arts, Fine Arts and Communication.

Getting access to a licence and understanding the proceduresto do so remains another maze for most, according to those who launcheda network called the ‘CR Forum’ to promote community radio. Communityradio has grown rapidly even in Nepal, Latin America and Africa. Butchallenges come from inside the campaign too.There has been some talk of adopting voluntary codes of conduct, sothat self-regulation improves the functioning of the sector once it isup and running. Others stressed that community radio should not belimited to just NGO radio, and that actual communities should beempowered by it.

There are two perspectives on the conditions in the licenseconditions. Some argue that there are too many stumbling blocks thatwould make the fledgling community radio stations difficult to sustain.Others in the network suggest that what has been given is a significantchange over the earlier government approach, and should be acceptedtill the authorities are more comfortable with the idea. Said IITianArun Mehta: “We should outright reject conditions which say thatequipment should be bought only from ‘authorised dealers’. Surely, acollege with talented students could build their own equipment (at afar lower cost).” (IANS)


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