`Simplify licensing systems for community radio'
VINOD PAVARALA has been advocating community right over radio waves. UNESCO's Community Media Chair at the University of Hyderabad, Pavarala tells
what an ideal community radio station should be and how government can regulate it well It has been more than 10 years since a policy for community radio was formulated. What are the new issues? If you look at the vastness and diversity of this country, 170 stations are hardly anything. You are looking at less than 20 stations in a year. I think we need to look at the reasons that are slowing down the medium. The first reason is the elaborate bureaucratic procedures that have been put in place for licensing. The government has to simplify the procedures and create a single-window system. The second issue that needs a re-look is the continued ban on broadcast of news. What is community radio without news? At present, a public interest litigation is under way on the issue and hopefully the Supreme Court will permit broadcast of news soon. The third issue is the policy saying that no content of political nature shall be broadcast. Of course, the policy does not define politics. But politics is increasingly becoming local. Recently, the government announced its plans to conduct a listenership survey. What are your thoughts on this? I have heard of the listenership survey idea that the government is floating. Its purpose is maybe to show the effectiveness and impact of community radio on other wings of government. But the survey will not help community radios get advertisement. Listenership surveys can give you some sense of what but often they cannot answer questions about the why. I think the why can be answered by qualitative research.
Community radio stations by grassroots organisations often face financial hardships. Will the new ` 100-crore scheme help? Financial sustainability is the new buzzword used at all community radio events these days. I know of NGOs who have large projects but their domain is primarily not community radio. Their domain might be sustainable agriculture, literacy or children's rights and they get funding for the domain. Now they are diverting a part of their funding to run community radio. I think this is a sustainable model and more organisations should look at it. This is important because the possibility of community radio surviving only on advertisements is unlikely. The government should ensure that the funds allocated under the Supporting Community Radio Movement in India scheme is administered independently so that it actually reaches the people. What would be the ideal model for a community radio station? The community radio stations that function really well are the ones that are rooted to a particular social or grassroots movement. They are based on peoples' rights, access to resources and are not just a part of NGO activity. Even if NGOs are getting licences, the content should not be "NGOised".