News on Community Radio – Debate

This is a mail by one of my friends, Sajan Venniyoor, an avid supporter and activist in the Community Radio movement. This mail refers to The Hindu Readers’ Editor (Panneer Selvam) writing an entire column (30/3/2015) on a debate he makes of allowing news on Community (and commercial) radios.
Besides the critique of Government policy banning news on radios, Sajan gives a few useful insights, relating facts and figures, into this issue. Hence I am posting this group-mail on this blog.
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It is very good of Panneer to have taken up the issue of free speech on radio, and link it to the Supreme Court’s ‘invigorating’ judgment on section 66A of the I.T. Act. But Panneer is an exception. Generally, the mainstream media has the attention span of a gnat, and their media beat seems to be handled exclusively by [xxx xxx] teenagers.

Just look at all the frightful bilge in the media about the recent ‘revelation’ by MIB that “there will be 1000 odd channels across the length and breadth of the country” in the near future. TRAI made its recommendations for FM Phase III more than seven years ago, and it is still a revelation to the media than such a thing could be done. According to the Minister, “the PM himself has been able to popularise the radio and it has been expanding by leaps and bounds.” By “leaps and bounds”, I assume he means 179 community radio stations in 13 years, no private FM licenses for nearly ten years and some 200 odd AIR stations since the beginning of history.

Maybe Mr. Rathore has India’s Olympic standards of leaping and bounding in mind.

FM radio is an 80 year old technology, and it’s dying across the world. Like ageing rock-bands that tour India during their sunset years, FM radio is being promoted here as most other FM markets have dried up and gone digital.

The idea that the PM has single-handedly popularised radio with his mann ki baat is a sort of North Korean fantasy that finds takers only in Shastri Bhavan and on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. As someone who spent his formative years broadcasting the mann ki baat of assorted prime and subprime ministers, I would need a little more than Mr. Rathore’s word for it. The mainstream media, however, laps up this kind of nonsense without demur.

Last month, at the CR Sammelan, the Grand Panjandrum of MIB referred to the ‘Airwaves judgment’ of 1995 and informed us that airwaves, being public property, were to be used “for promoting public good and ventilating plurality of views, opinions and ideas, and the role of community radio was important in this context.” His interpretation of “plurality of views, opinions and ideas”, however, is govt. propaganda “sourced exclusively from All India Radio in its original form or translated into in its local language/ dialect.” Needless to say, the mainstream media swallowed this garbage and reproduced it without context, without question and mostly without a clue.

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