Community Radio in India

Community radio is a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a specific area, broadcasting material that has relevance to a local audience. The term has somewhat varying meanings. In the UK, it originated in the illegal pirate radio stations whereas in America, as well as in India, community radio is more commonly non-profit and non-commercial, often using licensed class-D FM band transmitters.

Community Radio in India:

The Community Radio was not legal in India till 2002. There had been a campaign by free speech advocates, academics and community members across the country to get the community radio legalized.

The turning point was a 1995 ruling of the Supreme Court in which the honourable court said that the “airwaves are public property and must be used for the public good”. The ruling added that though airwaves are limited, they should be used with reasonable restrictions. The ruling also asserted that the right to receive and impart information is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which describes the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

This 1995 ruling was the foundation stone of community radio in India. Immediately after the ruling came out, the civil society groups formulated and adopted a Bangalore Declaration, in which the need for a third tiers of broadcasting, i.e. community radio was articulated. This was followed up by a Pastapur Declaration in 2000 which reiterated the need for community radio and also asserted that it ought to be non-profit making, localized and community owned. These two declaration played important role in the development of Community Radio movement in India.

The Government Policy towards Community Radio in India

In December 2002, the NDA Government approved a policy for the grant of licenses for setting up of Community Radio Stations ONLY to well established educational institutions including IITs/IIMs. Thus, eligibility to own and operate the community radio was restricted to only the educational institutions.

On 1 February 2004, Anna FM was launched as India’s first campus “community” radio station by the students of the Anna University. However, by that time, the marginalized and voiceless communities remained outside of the community radios.

The civil society kept working towards convincing the government to expand the mandate of the community radio sector to include communities living in rural, remote and hilly areas of the country.

In 2006, the government released a new community radio policy which allowed the agricultural universities, educational institutions and civil society institutions such as NGOs to apply for a community radio broadcasting license under the FM band 88–108 MHz.

By 2008, some 40 Community Radio Stations started in India owned either by the educational institutions or by the NGOs. First NGO operated community Radio was the Sangham Radio, licensed to Deccan Development Society, in Pastapur village, Medak district, Andhra Pradesh.

Currently there are around 150 Community Radio stations in India.

Eligibility to apply for a Community Radio Station

As per the 2006 policy of the Government, an organisation desirous of operating a Community Radio Station (CRS) must be able to satisfy and adhere to the following principles:

  • It should be explicitly constituted as a ‘non-profit’ organisation and should have a proven record of at least three years of service to the local community.
  • The Community Radio Station should serve a specific well-defined local community.
  • The ownership and management structure should be such that it reflects the community which it serves
  • It should only broadcast programmes that cater to the educational, developmental, social and cultural needs of the community. (Entertainment is not banned explicitly. News Programmes are banned in Community Radio as well as FM Radio in India)
  • The organization must be a Legal Entity i.e. it should be registered (under the registration of Societies Act or any other such act relevant to the purpose).
  • Regarding the content, the two important provisions made are as follows:
  • At least 50% of content shall be generated with the participation of the local community, for which the station has been set up.
  • Programmes should preferably be in the local language and dialect(s).
  • The CRS license thus given by the government entitled them to operate a 100-watt (Effective Radiated Power) radio station, with a coverage area of approximately a 12-km radius. A maximum antenna height of 30 meters is allowed.

Role of Community Radio for Society

  • Community radio serves as a development tool, addressing issues of local concern.
  • Community Radio can also help in taking initiatives such as spreading the education, discuss on local maters and to take on the corrupt authorities. Example is a story published in adjacent box sourced from Frontline.
  • Community Radio is often called “People’s radio, For people, By people”
  • Community Radio is a radio service for geographically bound communities, where infrastructure is poor and mainstream national and regional media may not reach.
  • The service is usually run and managed by local people and addresses issues relating to the community in the local language.
  • It has great potential to serve as a development tool in rural India in terms of creating awareness, spreading information and facilitating communication.
  • However, India is yet to see a full-fledged community radio movement or process as government policy, governed by the Telegraph Act of 1885, does not permit such broadcasts.

Problems of the Community Radios

The first major problem for the Community Radios is the funding and payments of the spectrum fees. Every community Radio needs funds to run it smoothly. Nevertheless, those who have taken up the cause go from village to village and mountain to mountain with a small recorder player, helping people to communicate. In April 2012, the Government had hiked the spectrum fee from 19700 to Rs. 91000. This fivefold increase in the license fee provoked widespread protest from functional community radio stations. The matter is still under consideration of the government and would be reconsidered by September 2013. The second problem is that many girls are active in the community Radios and when these girls get married, the group comes to a standstill.

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