June 2005

Community Radio Policy in India

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Amidst media reports that India's new community radio policy is on the verge of being sent for Cabinet approval, the final stage of policy making, there are slight fears among community radio groups that the policy may not quite live up to their expectations. There has been intense speculation about the policy ever since the broadcast regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) (www.trai.gov.in) submitted its recommendations on community radio to the Government of India in December 2004. But community radio has been a matter of heated debate long before TRAI, in an unprecedented move, issued a consultation paper and held open house discussions on the subject late last year.

It was ten years ago, on December 9, 1995 that the Supreme Court handed down its historic judgement on the airwaves, stating, “Airwaves constitute public property and must be utilised for advancing public good.” A year later, a group of policy planners, media professionals and civil society organisations gathered in Bangalore to study how community radio could be relevant in India. A 'Bangalore Declaration' was signed, which has formed the basis of advocacy for community radio since then. Many meetings, workshops and conferences were to follow, including one in Hyderabad and Pastapur (Andhra Pradesh) in July 2000, which urged the government to create a three-tier structure of broadcasting in India – state-owned public radio, private commercial radio, and non-profit community radio.

Community radio has three key aspects: non-profit making, community ownership and management, and community participation. As community groups have defined it, “Community radio is distinguished by its limited local reach, low-power transmission, and programming content that reflects the educational, developmental and cultural needs of the specific community it serves.”

In December 2002, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting released its 'Community Radio Guidelines' (www. mib.nic.in). To community radio groups, who had been expecting a break-through, these guidelines were a major disappointment. The guidelines restricted community radio licenses to 'well-established' educational institutions. News and current affairs programmes were banned, and advertisements, which would have brought in some much needed revenue were also prohibited. The licensing process proved so cumbersome that the first campus-based community radio (CR) station in India

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