| 02 Feb 2023
Radio exploited by the term 'powerful medium'

MUMBAI: In the past few months, private radio stations in India have witnessed many ups and downs. It seems like the government is giving Private FM their much delayed rights in one hand by simultaneously taking away a few others.On 16 July, during Question Hour in the Lok Sabha Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Prakash Javadekar said that Radio stations can in a way depend on All India Radio (AIR) and other source like PTI for news. Only to hear him back-out from his statement saying that private FM will have to depend on AIR for news.

There has been no development in the much-hyped news factor on radio ever since. Javadekar had also stated that "in-principle" approval has taken place and news will be out "soon". Radio operators are not jumping with joy that news can be aired on their respective stations but they consider it as an element that would help them to be more innovative with their content.

Meanwhile, the basic right to voice ones opinion is coming under scanner, after recent remark by Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan. The recent demand made by Bachchan in the Rajya Sabha that action should be taken against Radio Jockeys (RJ) who jested and mimicked MPs on air, became a matter of discussion. The surprise element came in when Javadekar echoed Bachchan's sentiments and stated that words with double meanings which are not said in good sense will be face action by government. After which Javadekar took to twitter (sic), "I never said we object to mimicry on MPs. Anybody can Mimic us. People can make fun; we never mind. Today, (14 August) Jayaji and other MPs raised objections on vulgarity & double meaning jokes by RJs. I said we'll look into it." The statement by the ministers faced outcry from the radio professionals and radio supporters.

The latest radio controversy again raised one question- Why is radio being restricted when other mediums get to express their opinion freely? The restriction comes in due to the tag 'powerful medium'. The government is extremely meticulous while announcing policies for the industry only because of the fact that "Radio is a powerful medium."

How long can the Government impose this restriction?

In 2007, the Centre (former government UPA) banned one of the radio stations for a week over a 'racial' comment made by one of its jockeys against 'Indian Idol' contestant Prashant Tamang. Later the ban was covered up as the Government stated that the decision was subjected to a decision from the Telecom Disputes Settlement & Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) expected on 4 October 2007. This could be simply summed up by saying that the medium already has faced enough. Thus, the operators would have to face more opposition before it could become stronger.

According to KPMG report 2014, radio is forecasted to grow at the CAGR of 16 per cent till 2018 and the industry revenues are expected to be more than double. It is the policies and other factors that could be the driving factors for radio growth. The ray of hope for the industry is the Phase III auction which is followed by migration. The month of August is very crucial for radio players- as they await the Phase III auction's pre-qualification advertisement to take place anytime soon and also a month when it was revealed that TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) formula for migration was approved by inter-ministerial committee.

Soon, the government will have to make a decision if they will allow radio to operate freely in terms of their speech or restrain them from airing its voice. It will really take a while before radio could take off and live a free life, until then radio professionals and radio lovers will have to wait (which never seems to end).