In 1995 the Supreme Court declared the airwaves to be public property and since then activists have been advocating for opening up of airwaves to communities. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) mentioned setting up of 4000-5000 CRS but the sector from has only grown from 20 to 202 CRS since 2006 when the airwaves were made available for broadcasting by community-based organizations. The last National Consultation was held in 2010 wherein strong policy advocacy for the sector was at centre stage. This year’s National Consultation (2017) on ‘Strengthening Community Radio in India’ was held from April 11 to 12 and the issue of CR policies was assessed in the working paper presentation titled “Revisiting CR Policy” by Ms. Archana Kapoor, Station Director of Radio Mewat. This paper is collective effort of Ms. Kapoor, Prof. Vinod Pavarala, Mr. Sajan Venniyoor, Ms. Preeti Raghunath and Prof. Ashok Singh Sunhal at reviewing the current CR policies in India and also providing analysis on the challenges faced by the sector.
The growth of CR in India has been slow-moving and civil society organisations attribute this limited number of CRS growth to complex bureaucratic procedures. Instead of finding a solution to this problem, some government officials advocate for issuance of licenses to government departments in order to display a hike in number of CR licenses issued. Some officials believe that affluent entities like government owned NGO can sustain due to their prosperous backing but this will overturn the participation of communities based organizations which is the spirit of the sector. The paper introduced at National Consultation recommended not granting permission to any government agency other than educational institutions, keeping in with the spirit of community ownership practised within the CR sector.
Corporate proxies, religious organisations and political entities have been granted CR licenses due to inconsistency in the functioning of the government body monitoring the license applications called Screening Committee. The amendment allowing a CR transmitter to be relocated within a district by taking district magistrate’s permission during a natural disaster is still under way despite the positive work done by CRS at times of natural calamity in the past. The paper reiterated the need of having a single window clearance of CR license applications by involving the concerned ministries in the process.
The original CR guidelines of 2006 proscribed news broadcast and content of ‘political nature.’ However, recently the government has offered CRSs to re-broadcast news from All India Radio. Since the CR sector as it sees itself to be the alternative space to the hegemonic state and commercial broadcasting, the offer received lukewarm response. The paper suggests on broadcasting the independently produced content on news and current affairs on CR, which is in practice with international CR community. Over a decade, CRSs have been producing content by following the Programming Code of All India Radio stated in the Policy Guidelines of 2006. Lately, the government has been issuing ‘advisories’ to CRS on content broadcasting and the recalcitrant stations being reprimanded by the authorities. The CR members need to come up with a regulatory framework they wish to follow by negotiating with the government and advocate for more transparency between their communication.
Read the entire working paper on Revisiting CR Policy.
Highlights of panel discussion on ‘Revisiting CR Policy’:
The session on ‘Towards a more Enabling Policy for Community Radio’, with Dr. Vibodh Parthasarathy (Jamia Millia, Islamia) on the chair and panelists Archana Kapoor (Radio Mewat), Prof. Ashok Singh Sunhal (Alwar ki Awaaz), Anushi Agrawal (Maraa), Sajan Venniyoor and Anju Nigam (MIB) featured discussions on several aspects of policy like CR application process, CR support scheme and the ban on broadcasting news on CRs.
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