The recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on community radio are now out in the public domain. It follows a consultation the regulator had with various stakeholders in the sector recently. Here is a quick summary of the key points:
1. TRAI has expressed its reluctance to recommend broadcast of independently produced news by CR stations. This is based on fears of ‘misuse’ and ‘lack of monitoring’. It, however, endorses broadcast of AIR news. This is indeed a setback, although TRAI says the issue can be re-visited after MIB puts a monitoring mechanism in place. TRAI’s 2004 recommendations were actually more liberal.
2. It reinforces the current issue of licenses for a period of 5 years, and recommends renewal for five-year periods, with the requirement, for first time renewal, of verification of adherence to terms of the original license, and, for a second-time renewal (at the end of 10 years) of a systematic evaluation mechanism (including self-evaluation). This sounds fair enough.
3. On advertising, TRAI is of the opinion that the current 5-minute time limit per one hour of broadcast is adequate. It has, however, heeded to the pleas by stations that they be allowed to offer rates lower than DAVP (Department of Audiovisual Publicity, Government of India) fixed rates to attract local, small-time advertisers.
4. On emergency broadcasting during disasters, TRAI sounds sympathetic to the long-standing request from the sector that the Government needs to demonstrate some flexibility in relocation of transmitter of a station already functioning in the region or to set up emergency transmitters where none exist at present. However, TRAI has stopped short of recommending anything concrete, except for asking the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) to develop detailed guidelines.
5. On various types of CRSs under the current licensing regime (campus, community, KVK/AU, etc), TRAI felt that as the sector is still growing, this may be too early to create sub-categorization of licenses (although it may become necessary in the future).
6. On our usual complaint about licensing procedures, TRAI took cognizance of the delays at the WPC end resulting in much frustration and suggested that MIB set up an online single window by integrating all the steps up to the signing of the GOPA. If this can be done, many potential applicants will find the process much smoother.
Prof. Vinod Pavarala, UNESCO Chair on Community Media