Urging The Inclusion Of The Right Of The Communities Within The Community Radio Policy
The Prime Minister, Government of India
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WE, the undersigned individuals and organizations, urgently petition the Government of India to cease discriminating against community members, community based-organizations, non-government organizations and other civil society groups, operating in the interest of the people of this country and on a not-for-profit basis, and allow them to exercise their right to set up, manage and run their own Community Radio Stations [CRS] in the country.
The current вCommunity Radio Policyв (вGuidelines for applying licenses for setting up community radio stationв, www.mib.nic.in) is discriminatory towards communities as it bars them from applying for licenses to operate low power community radio stations. The policy holds that only вwell established educational institutions / organizationsв can apply for a community radio license. So, what we have in the name of Community Radio is in reality Campus Radio. Moreover, in the recently initiated reforms in the commercial FM radio sector, the Government has opened up 336 more frequencies to be sold to private broadcasters. But here too community groups, NGOs and other non-profit organizations are barred from applying. This is in gross violation of our fundamental rights [Right to Freedom of Speech-Article 19(1) A and Right Against Discrimination-Article 14]. This anomaly has to seen in the context of the Supreme Court Judgment of February 1995, which clearly rules that airwaves are public property, to be used for the public good.
Several organizations, academicians and individuals have been actively campaigning for communitiesв right to access the airwaves for the last seven years. They have made innumerable representations to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and to the Broadcast Regulator (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India - TRAI). They have written and submitted several drafts to reform the existing Community Radio Policy so as to include community rights in it.
In May 2004, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry had organized a workshop on вDesigning An Enabling Framework For Community Radioв in Delhi, and brought together many stakeholders, experts, media-persons, broadcasters and donor agencies to give their recommendations on Community Radio in India. The Ministry, based on the recommendations of the workshop, drew up a draft Community Radio Policy. A Parliamentary Consultative Committee later discussed the draft Policy on 23 November 2004.
Meanwhile, the Broadcast Regulator (TRAI), had prepared a Consultation Paper on community radio in August 2004, and held open house discussions with stakeholders in Delhi and Mumbai in October 2004. Based on its consultations, TRAI recommended that any legal entity, including community-based organizations, should be permitted to apply for a CRS license, that the restriction on news and current affairs programmes should be lifted, and that limited commercial advertising may be permitted on community radio. TRAIвs recommendations (www.trai.gov.in) were submitted to the Government on 9 December 2004.
The Government had raised the following concerns regarding the grant of licenses to communities:
1. Security Concerns: The Government fears that unscrupulous elements would acquire radio licenses and start broadcasting вobjectionable materialв.
2. Frequency Interference: The Government is worried that the FM frequencies of the low power CRS could interfere with civil aviation, defense communications, police wireless etc.
3. Spectrum Shortage: The Government is concerned that too many CRS operators could result in a shortage of frequencies to allocate.
4. Sustainability of CRS: The Government is worried that community organizations would not be able to sustain the CRS they are applying to operate and run.
In several meetings and presentations, including the ones cited above, it has been argued and demonstrated to the Government that all these fears are unfounded and irrational. Radio programming is not a surreptitious activity that goes unnoticed. Programmes would be on air and it would be easy for any civil agency to monitor whether or not CRS are airing objectionable material. In any event, the CRS operators are subject to the rules that apply to all mass media, and can be booked and tried under the existing laws of the land.
The fear of frequency shortage and interference is completely overblown and unscientific. Low power CRS would be subject to the same Frequency Allocation clearance procedures as any other broadcaster, including high-powered A.I.R stations and commercial FM stations. The majority of community stations would be in rural areas, where the FM spectrum is almost entirely unused. Frequency shortage is a myth. If there really were a shortage of frequencies, it would not have been possible for the Government to open up 357 frequencies to the commercial sector in Phase I & II of FM licensing, and plan ahead for a Phase III. Within 10 years, the migration from analog to digital broadcasting will make the whole argument irrelevant.
Finally, the sustainability of community radio stations should not be a matter of concern, since they are relatively inexpensive to set up and run. There are many instances of deprived communities running low-cost radio stations in different parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Even a limited amount of advertising, as recommended by the Broadcast Regulator (TRAI), would prove sufficient to sustain such low-cost community radio stations.
In spite of many meetings and recommendations the Government has failed to deliver any justice on this issue. In May 2005, it was reported that the I & B Ministry had sent a slew of policy reforms to the Cabinet for approval, including the new community radio policy. While the other media policies, including Phase в II of commercial FM licensing, were cleared by the Cabinet and notified, the Community Radio policy has not been heard of since. What we have heard is the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting announcing, on August 12, 2005, that the Ministry would be setting up 4000 Community radio stations in rural areas. Such announcements are meaningless unless the Policy is reframed to include the rights of the вcommunitiesв to own and manage their own stations.
WE, therefore demand that the Government puts an end to this discrimination and directs the relevant Ministries to accept applications by community based and civil society organizations to operate their own Community Radio Stations.
WE demand that the Government incorporates necessary changes in its current вCommunity Radio Policyв to include civil society organizations, community based groups, non-government organizations and other groups or associations organized as non-profit making bodies, in its list of вeligible organizationsв.
WE urge that the Government take positive action in this regard to clarify the role and setting up of widespread, community-led radio stations throughout the country, as part of the commitment made on Independence Day by the President with reference to the PURA programme, and the Prime Minister's own statements calling for empowerment of all our country's people within the framework of an open society, by enabling the creation, dissemination and the utilisation of knowledge.
1. Ministry of Information & Broadcasting
2. Ministry of Communications and Information Technology
3. Ministry of Home Affairs