Since 2006, by allowing community radio in India, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoIB) along with Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MoCIT), have recognized citizens’ fundamental right to speech and expression in accordance with Article 19, Clause 1 Sub-Clause A of the Indian Constitution. The Central government has also acknowledged the landmark judgment given by the Supreme Court in 1995 (See Sec. MoIB Vs Cricket Association of Bengal) wherein the bench headed by Justice P.B Sawant said that:
– Freedom of speech and expression includes right to acquire information and to disseminate it
– The airwaves are a public property and they have to be used for the benefit of the society at large
Given this background, it is shocking that community radio stations, which are of, for and by communities, often in remote, rural and hilly areas, operating in marginalizing and disadvantageous conditions, will now be required to pay as much as Rs. 91,000 per annum as royalty/license charges for operating a small FM community radio station broadcasting within a range of 5-10 kilometers with a 50 watt transmitter. This move is clearly a mockery of the government stance which claims that there are no license fees for community radio.
The government of India, through its various ministries has been deploying various strategies to suppress freedom of media in the country. One such method has been to arbitrarily and unreasonably raise the barriers to entry, causing smaller players to drop out and creating a non-level playing field. By raising the spectrum fee from Rs.19,700 per annum to Rs. 91000, the genuine and grassroots communities will be excluded, community radio licences will be captured by rich NGOs, universities and private educational institutions, and community radio will be a mockery of the stated policy objectives of the government of India.
The Community Radio Forum, in the light of these developments, has decided to unanimously boycott a policy consultation held by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the 9th and 10th of May 2012.
Further, all the functional community radio stations which are members of the Community Radio Forum have also decided to observe a Day of Silence on the 9th of May 2012, by announcing the spectrum fee hike, playing a symbolic protest song, and then switching off the transmitter for the whole day. Further activities are being planned for a long and sustained campaign. Community broadcasters are determined not to give up this campaign until this spectrum fee hike is rolled back.
CR Forum of India is a legally registered organization under the Indian Societies Act. CRF-India is also a member of the I&B Ministry’s Screening Committee for community radio, and also identified as a nodal agency for complaints resolution for community radio under the Government of India’s draft Broadcast Bill / Content Code 2006/2007. The Community Radio Forum was initiated in 2007 to provide a common platform for CR broadcasters, to offer a variety of services including capacity building in technology and programming. It operates and has presence in the entire country.