Time to Revisit Community
Community Radio Policy of 2006 allowed for the licensing and setting up
of community radio stations by NGOs, besides educational institutions. A
decade later, drawing from a range of international and regional
experiences, and India’s own tryst with community radio, it becomes
imperative to revisit the currently operational Community Radio Policy
Guidelines set up by the government. The list of international
recommendations on community radio drawn up at the UNESCO Paris
Consultation held in 2015 and the recommendations for South Asia
formulated at the same consultation, provide guidelines for shaping the
future of India’s community radio sector.
It is time to bring in some interim policy
recommendations, some of which can be based on the above alluded
documents – which, of course need thorough discussions among
representatives of India’s community radio sector.
Divided into four thematic areas (Licensing, Content, Screening and
Renewal and Monitoring and Financial Sustenance), the following
paragraphs capture some long-standing demands of the decade-old
community radio sector in India.
Licensing is the one aspect that legitimises
the operation of a community radio station. The need is now emerging to
bolster transmission frequencies of community radio stations catering to
diverse geographies, topography and difficult, undulating terrain and
varying altitudes. In many cases, a 100 Watt Effective Radiated Power
transmitter is restrictive and so, it might serve well for the
government to consider the transmission of community radio over medium
While doing so, integrated and speedy
licensing of community radio applications, including clearances from the
Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, should be
implemented to enhance the effectiveness of the single-window mechanism
and licensing should prioritise states that do not yet have an
operational community radio and also cater to media dark districts in
the country. As per stated government goals, every district in the
country should have at least one operational community radio station.
The success story of the Cuddalore Emergency
community radio in 2014 showcased the potential of community radio for
providing essential information in times of a severe humanitarian
crisis. This calls for special attention to the role of community radio
in disaster situations – allocating a special frequency and proactive
licensing of applications from disaster-prone regions.
Most importantly, on the matter of
licensing, it is essential to reiterate that apart from public
educational institutions, other government agencies and departments
should be disallowed from running community radio stations. This is in
keeping with the true spirit of community radios, which are run and
managed by communities.
On the matter of content, Indian community
radios stations must be permitted to broadcast independently produced
news and current affairs, and, if required, FCRA norms may be revisited
to enable community radio stations to broadcast news and current affairs
programming. This will be in line with international norms that permit
airing of local news on community radio stations.
In the same vein, suitable provisions should
be made in the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy to protect
communities against commercial exploitation of local cultural resources
aired on community radio stations and to encourage local cultural
Screening and Renewal
It is time now for screening committee
membership, procedure and decision-making, including rejection of
applications, should be made more transparent and accessible to the
Clear guidelines must be laid down for the
renewal of licenses. Keeping in line with the TRAI recommendations of
2014, a five-year license duration with an assessment and renewal at the
end of the period must be put in place.
The procurement of transmitters and other
broadcasting equipment should be made easier, exempting community radio
stations from incurring excise duties and other levies on import.
Funding and Monitoring
Allocation for public funding for community
radio stations, as it exists today, should be reconceptualised to allow
the setting up of an autonomous public body for decision-making on fund
We live in the era of Digital India. So, is
it not pertinent to voice the need of communities for high speed
broadband to every community radio station? Can the government not
advice telecom companies to exempt community radio stations engaged in
online audio streaming from incurring data charges?
Lastly, an independent regulatory body
should be set up to address grievances from applicants and to look into
violations of programming guidelines.
Prof Vinod Pavarala
Professor and UNESCO Chair
on Community Media,
University of Hyderabad
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