Community radio stations now face the heat

Under the previous UPA regime, we thought community radios did not make much of a progress. Though the Government gave a lot of support, -both financial, content, training, and policy- people failed to appreciate it saying ‘too much of babu-dom’

One of the major grouses of CR activists and CR broadcasters was that the Government was against Community Radios (CR) -in fact all private radios- producing and broadcasting news! At the most, the UPA Govt said, private radios could (re-)broadcast Prasar Bharti (public broadcasting corporation which runs public television Doordarshan and All India Radio in India) news. And how would that reflect the diversity of the country and its languages and cultures and geographies? Government had no answers! When all private (national and local) television channels could produce their own audio-visual news -with whatever slant they could to inflame communal fires-, why could not a poor person’s medium like radio produce audio-only news and broadcast it? There were no answers!

All the sops and incentives given to CR movement -like easier licenses, lower frequency fees, separate cell, awards, national sammelans, seed-money for new stations, regular help to struggling CR stations, DAVP advertisements and whatever pro-CR policy by the forgotten. It was felt that the UPA government was anti-poor, anti-speech, and all the anti-s!

Then came BJP’s Narendra Modi as PM in May 20114. When he started his monthly radio programme ‘man ki bath’ (heart’s whisper), people thought he was being very radio savvy. What more, he made it mandatory for all the functional community radios (about 179 till the end of April 2015) in the country to broadcast his ‘man ki bath’ – twice! Though some started seeing red through the move, none spoke!
Now that silence has become painful – the Modi government has gone much further to impose heavy monitoring mechanism on poor community radios. On 30 April, the Government has made it mandatory for all the CRs in the country to email all the content broadcast on their radios. EVERYDAY! Can you believe that!? CR stations emailing ALL the radio content EVERYDAY to the Ministry!?

Do we have the bandwidth to email many gigabites of audio content every day? We are talking about
the ignored rural India which needs to be informed and which needs to find a voice. When our towns and cities can’t get decent bandwidth (even in Bangalore, we can’t access our emails properly via BSNL’s 2mbps lines!), how can poor CRs in rural India do that!?
Secondly, most of our rural stations don’t have enough electricity to put on computers. And how will they upload the content with an extra-load on computer?
Above all, these CR stations which find it extremely difficult to employ a person to run their radio station, can’t employ another full-timer to sort out the programmes and upload -with the type of erratic internet connections we have. Will the government foot the bill? So far -in the last eleven-and-a-half months, the Modi government has done nothing to this effect except forcing them to be his mouthpiece to justify anti-rural, anti-farmer, anti-poor policies.
Who can save this country from this anti-people government?

They should throw open their content for scrutiny on a daily basis.

After the crackdown on NGOs, the government has turned the heat on 179 Community Radio (CR) stations operational in the country, struggling to remain on air on shoe-string budgets, by ordering them to throw open their content for scrutiny on a daily basis.

This, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has proposed, should be done on an email. In an order, dated April 30, the Ministry ordered the radio stations, that broadcast anywhere between eight and 20 hours to mail their content every day.

The order reads as follows: “You are requested to provide recordings of all programmes broadcast on daily basis from the date of receipt of this letter along with the logbook and the Q sheet. Please provide the recordings in MP3 format.”

For most CR operators, this is a logistical nightmare as they try and figure out how to execute the Government’s recent diktat.

The last time, the government had directed CRs to share their content was on a three-month basis which resulted in 30 DVDs being despatched to the ministry for scrutiny from a single radio station!

With the Supreme Court examining a petition, operators are barred from broadcasting their own news.

“Move for control of news content”

Many community radio (CR) operators believe the government is preparing the ground for control of content.

“If the courts allow news on radio, the government would retain scrutiny on content with this latest diktat.” In fact, this year’s budget provides for a Rs. 10 crore allocation for monitoring of radio content.

As of now, community radio operators have no option but to broadcast Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat — despite the government’s own ban on news! Many radio operators fear that their radio stations are increasingly being viewed as a platform for propagating government programmes.

In short, they are being asked to function as a mouthpiece for the government, instead of a watchdog. Vinod Pavarla, of the UNESCO chair of Community Media, Hyderabad said “the diktat amounts to harassing radio operators, who now have to set aside a dedicated team to comply with the government’s order.”


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