Union information and broadcasting (I&B) minister Prakash Javadekar clarified in Parliament on Wednesday that private FM stations will only be allowed to broadcast All India Radio (AIR) news content without altering the same in any way. On the back of the long-standing demand of private FM operators to allow them to generate and broadcast news content, expectations that the new government would make the necessary amendments to the guidelines for the Phase III bidding for FM had grown.
It makes little sense to cage in FM, given how it has developed—as per the Indian Readership Survey—158 million listeners by 2012. These numbers are likely to have grown by now. More important, some of the most popular FM stations are owned by media houses that are already in the business of news—the Times Group (Radio Mirchi), HT Media (Fever 104), the BBC (Radio One, in a JV with Next MediaWorks). So, if other entities of these media houses can be trusted to collate and disseminate news on their own, why restrict their FM stations from doing the same? Javadekar had earlier said that the government was taking a positive view of the private FM stations’ demand. Now, it seems the operators will have to wait—how much longer is only for the government to tell, since the minister said in Parliament that the policy could be “relaxed in the future”. The government, however, must consider how costly delays can be. BBC World Service began the shutdown of its Hindi service for radio in 2011—the same year Phase III was approved—as listenership fell drastically. It needs to be kept in mind that, in 2006, BBC had blamed the policy of not allowing news collation and broadcast for shrinking listenership.