[cr-india] TRAI endorses ban on independent news on CR

Ram Bhat ram at maraa.in
Sat Aug 30 22:36:41 CDT 2014

Some comments on the TRAI recommendations:

Renewal of Licenses:
Licenses will be renewed for a period of five years (with request for
renewal to be made in the 4th year)
Second extension and subsequent extensions to be made on basis of
self-evaluation - format of which will be prepared by I&B Ministry; fresh
applications to be considered in comparison with self-evaluation report of

This is along expected lines and seems more or less fine. The problematic
aspect of this is the self-evaluation format which will be spearheaded by
the Ministry. Supposing CR station X is operational for the first 5 years,
seeks extension and is granted another 5 years. In the ninth year of its
existence, it will have to fill in a self-evaluation report. The obvious
problem is how a generic format prepared by I&B will address questions of
renewal, sustainability, performance etc for a particular CR station - the
problem is exacerbated if the radio station is located in a remote area
with a unique local context. Further, this self-evaluation report will be
compared to an application made by a prospective newcomer. TRAI has not
mentioned who will do the comparison and make this crucial decision - of
favouring the incumbent to continue or favouring the newcomer. Unless there
is a strong decision on independent regulator, these kind of issues will
continue to fester. Needless to say, these kind of critical decisions will
involve significant conflict of interest if I&B people are to be involved.

News and Current Affairs
TRAI has recommended that CR stations be allowed to re-broadcast AIR news
with a provision to translate without distorting the news.

There are two aspects of the analysis which are troubling. One is that this
permission to re-broadcast AIR content may be reviewed when monitoring
mechanisms are in place since CRs can 'misuse' the power to broadcast news.
Second is the perceived unfairness to commercial players. The logic seems
to be that since commercial players, even though they have auctioned for
licenses, are not allowed news, it would be unfair for CRS to be allowed

Taking the monitoring aspect first, we have already discussed that I&B has
spent about 280 crores in setting up a Electronic Media Monitoring Centre.
The annual budget for EMMC is 13.75 crores. This money is ill-spent in
attempting to monitor a bunch of terrestrial analogue radio stations.
Firstly, it is doubtful whether each and every one of these stations will
have broadband capabilities to enable uploads of audio feeds. Secondly, if
by some miracle, each and every CR station has broadband internet, the
question remains on how I&B plans to monitor all the various programmes
produced and broadcast in diverse languages and dialects. Does this mean
that the Ministry plans to hire one or many persons for each language and
dialect spoken in the country? Thirdly, as our CR stations increase the
amount of air time, it will be impossible to monitor the content
practically. At best, the people sitting in EMMC can object to a program
some time after it has already been broadcast. In such a situation, the
best possible scenario can be to send warning notice or in a more drastic
scenario, suspend the license (temporarily or permanently). The damage
would already have been done on the field. Clearly, this whole line of
thinking, i.e. an attempt to monitor hundreds of analogue terrestrial
services in real time is not only impractical, but also expensive and
impossible to execute. Further, there is no clarity about the independence
of the EMMC. If a station is politically active and then in the near
future, EMMC deems some content objectionable, wouldn't many of us assume
that this is indirect censorship? Again, there are potential conflict of
interest issues, not to mention dangerous regulatory powers given to a
political entity, namely I&B Ministry.

Secondly, if we consider the unfair to commercial players line of argument,
it is indeed circular logic that TRAI has applied to the situation. After
all, it is possible that TRAI and/or I&B may say that it is unfair to allow
news on commercial FM because CR stations are not allowed to broadcast! No,
the frame of reference must be constitutional rights. The second and more
practical frame of reference can be an attempt to create a level playing
field. A level playing field can be created by allowing both sectors the
right to broadcast news. Instead, TRAI has unfortunately chosen to create a
level playing field by denying both sectors the right to broadcast news. In
any case, as several of us have mentioned previously, the matter is
sub-judice and in my personal opinion, it is highly doubtful whether the
restriction on news and current affairs will survive judicial scrutiny. It
would have been useful if TRAI had endorsed the more liberal and more
common-sensical point of view, i.e. to remove restrictions on broadcast of
news and current affairs including political programming. It is all the
more ironical since the commercial sector representatives have themselves
come out strongly in favour of permitting news on FM.

Duration of advertisements
TRAI has recommended that 5 minute window of advertisements per hour of
airtime is sufficient. However, it has 'requested' DAVP to relax the
stipulation that DAVP approved rate is the lowest rate and exclusive to

Although TRAI may well be right that 5 minutes per hour is sufficient, it
is unfortunate that TRAI has arrived at the decision without any evidence,
much less a reasoned analysis based on evidence. On the contrary, TRAI has
highlighted that 5 minutes cap was set keeping in mind the 'impact' on
commercial FM sector, and further states that 'the situation has not
changed warranting a relook'.
It is worth reiterating that the most significant competition between
commercial and community radio takes place in A+ and smaller urban areas,
and not at all in rural areas (even after FM-Phase III). Therefore a
blanket decision affecting CRs across urban, semi-urban and rural is
actually unfortunate. To decide that 5 minutes is sufficient because they
are not currently fulfilling it is an old sarkaari logic (Note how govt
budgets get slashed if they are underutilized). At this rate, if an
unfortunate CR station does not get any advertising, then TRAI will
recommend that there is no need for advertising at all! The time duration
for advertising should not be based on whether a few stations can fulfill
the limit or not. Instead the time duration should be based on what is the
average amount a particular CRS needs to raise to cover operating expenses
in a urban, semi-urban and rural area (respectively) by renting airtime on
an average rate (benchmarks for this need to be worked out depending on
category of urban, semi-urban and rural).
Also, it would be worth pointing out that it is also unfair to compare
commercial and community radio in terms of advertising rates. The other
variables are highly skewed in favour of commercial radio. The first factor
is the transmission power where CR is capped at an extremely low power of
100 Watts ERP when compared to commercial radio. The second factor is that
community radio stations are given to non-profit organizations and all
surplus revenue is to be ploughed back in to the CRS operations.
In spite of this, it is possible that in a few markets, the rates will come
plummeting down if CR ad rates become the benchmark for the FM market.
However, there is no evidence of this happening where there is direct
competition. We can look at the top radio markets of Bombay, Delhi,
Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai etc. In no top radio market has the CR
station influenced the ad rate- even to a minor degree. The coverage of the
CR station is so small that it has no real influence for ad rates for a
city wide audience.  It might be interesting to study if CR stations have
distorted as rates in smaller cities, e.g. Kanpur, Jhansi etc

Disaster and CR
TRAI has basically left the whole thing to NDMA, requesting the latter to
come up with guidelines for relocating existing CRs in disaster areas, and
guidelines for new CRs in disaster areas.

NDMA representative had come to the 2014 Sammelan on invitation by I&B. He
was very clear that NDMA had no authority to enforce anything and can in
fact only present guidelines. If NDMA gets its act together, at best it
will only add to its illustrious and long list of guideline documents -
which then are roundly ignored by all other stakeholders. To the best of my
understanding, the disaster and communications issue can only be handled
with some authority by MHA and MoCIT. If these are kept out of the policy
decisions, then it is likely that they will be unaware of the whole effort,
much less engage with it meaningfully.
I also believe that the issue of disaster/emergency and CR is much wider
than the scope TRAI has outlined. There is also the question of ongoing
alert-based information to existing CRs. Then there is the question of
interconnecting CRs (not just with each other but also with public radio
network) in case of wider regions being affected. Lastly, there needs to be
a strategy where local authorities (District Collector, state authorities)
need to be made aware of CR presence (especially in areas which are deemed
vulnerable). Unfortunately TRAI has ignored all these aspects with the hope
that NDMA will look at it in the future.

Single Window Mechanism
TRAI has recommended a online single window mechanism for CR applicants.
While this is well intentioned it is unfortunately almost impossible to
I&B can absorb paperwork wherein it has to send copies of applications to
other ministries (Law, Defence, MHA etc) and to its credit, this system is
already converted into a single window mechanism. Today, an applicant has
to submit 7 copies of the application only to I&B, and I&B in turn
circulates copies to other ministries.
The real issue comes with the separation of I&B and MoCIT. The WPC has its
own way of doing things and so far I&B has not successfully managed to
convince WPC of the need for single-window mechanism. It is unlikely that
TRAI's recommendation will improve this situation although it must be said
that it is the right thing to recommend.
The SACFA, GOPA and WOL processes does most of the damage - and this is
distributed between the two ministries. I hope that the TRAI recommendation
is taken up by the two ministers (Mr. Javadekar and Mr. Ravi Shankar
Prasad) as an issue that can be sorted out with political will.
It is perhaps for the first time that TRAI has explicitly acknowledged
concerns of the commercial radio sector in a recommendation paper dealing
with Community Radio. The concerns have been cited for duration of ads as
well as on news and current affairs. It is very unfortunate that the
commercial radio association AROI and the community radio associations CRF
and CRAI have not formally spoken to each other. We need a platform where
both (in fact we can add public radio to that list) sectors can talk about
issues common to each other. Since all three kinds of FM radio operate in
the same geographical area, there are bound to be common concerns,
perceived conflicts and concerns about level playing field. If they are not
addressed between ourselves offline, then these issues find their way into
TRAI papers, policy decisions etc doing untold damage to one sector or the
other - often to all sectors more often than not.

Apologies for the long email, and looking fwd to more responses,


> On Sat, Aug 30, 2014 at 1:08 AM, Kanchan K. Malik <drkanchan07 at gmail.com>
>> Only unaltered AIR news on CRS is a big disappointment indeed! People
can tune in to AIR for that - they do not need a CRS.
>> Also not sure why they think CRSs would 'misuse' this facility? Has all
the 'monitoring' of news channels by MIB ensured that all news in the
public domain is not 'misleading'?
>> However, I liked their analysis of the duration of advertisements (and
the ensuing recommendation of flexibility to offer lower rates to the local
>> The section on Sub-categorisation of CRS also sums up some of the
crucial issues related to the distinction in the 'focus, objectives,
content, funding, and outlook' of community, campus and KVK radios.
However, the low numbers in each category is the reason stated not to carry
out this exercise at present. Hope it will happen in good time…
>> On 29 August 2014 23:46, Arti Jaiman <arti at trfindia.org> wrote:
>>> Extremely disappointing.
>>> Sent from Samsung Mobile
>>> -------- Original message --------
>>> From: Vinod Pavarala
>>> Date:29/08/2014 18:48 (GMT+05:30)
>>> To: cr-india at sarai.net
>>> Subject: [cr-india] TRAI endorses ban on independent news on CR
>>> Dear all:
>>> The TRAI recommendations on community radio are now out in the public
domain. Here is a quick summary of the key points:
>>> TRAI has expressed its reluctance to recommend broadcast of
independently produced news by CR stations. This is based on fears of
'misuse' and 'lack of monitoring'. It, however, endorses broadcast of AIR
news. This is indeed a setback, although TRAI says the issue can be
re-visited after MIB puts a monitoring mechanism in place. TRAI's 2004
recommendations were actually more liberal.
>>> On other issues, it reinforces the current issue of licenses for a
period of 5 years, and recommends renewal for five-year periods, with the
requirement, for first time renewal, of verification of adherence to terms
of the original license, and, for a second-time renewal (at the end of 10
years) of a systematic evaluation mechanism (including self-evaluation).
 This sounds fair enough.
>>> On advertising, TRAI is of the opinion that the current 5-minute time
limit is adequate. It has, however, heeded to the pleas by stations that
they be allowed to offer rates lower than DAVP fixed rates to attract
local, small-time advertisers.
>>> On emergency broadcasting during disasters, TRAI sounds sympathetic to
the long-standing request from the sector that the Government needs to
demonstrate some flexibility in relocation of transmitter of a station
already functioning in the region or to set up emergency transmitters where
none exist at present. However, TRAI has stopped short of recommending
anything concrete, except for asking NDMA to develop detailed guidelines.
>>> On various types of CRSs under the current licensing regime (campus,
community, KVK/AU, etc), TRAI felt that as the sector is still growing,
this may be too early to create sub-categorization of licenses (although it
may become necessary in the future).
>>> On our usual complaint about licensing procedures, TRAI took cognizance
of the delays at the WPC end resulting in much frustration and suggested
that MIB set up an online single window by integrating all the steps up to
the signing of the GOPA. If this can be done, many potential applicants
will find the process much smoother.
>>> Please share if you think I have missed anything significant in the
>>> best,
>>> Vinod
>>> --
>>> Dr. Vinod Pavarala
>>> Professor of Communication &
>>> UNESCO Chair on Community Media
>>> Sarojini Naidu School of Arts & Communication
>>> University of Hyderabad
>>> Gachibowli, Hyderabad 500046
>>> Phone: +91-40-23135501/23011553
>>> http://www.commuoh.in/
>>> http://www.uccommedia.in/
>>> http://www.communityradioindia.org/
>>> Join the Community Radio Forum.
>> --
>> Dr. Kanchan K. Malik
>> Associate Professor, Department of Communication
>> Faculty Fellow, UNESCO Chair on Community Media
>> Sarojini Naidu School of Arts & Communication
>> University of Hyderabad
>> Gachibowli, Hyderabad 500046
>> Phone: +91-40-23135506 (O)
>>            +91-990-858-2613 (M)
>> Join the Community Radio Forum.
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