Community Media/MARAA/Community Radio/CR Policy

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Community Radio in India was officially recognized by the Government of India in 2002 when a policy was released. However, this policy recognized only educational institutions as communities, thereby disallowing other community groups to apply for their own community radio stations.

In November 2006, a new policy was released which catered to educational institutions, non government organizations, as well as agricultural institutions/centers.

Latest list of Letter of Intent (LOI) Holders

At present there are 76 LOI Holders, as on 3rd July 2008. The list can be seen here

Salient points on CR Policy

According to the latest policy, gazetted in early 2007, there are three groups who are eligible to apply for a community radio station. These are: Non profit institutions who are registered for more than three years; educational institutions and Agricultural University/Centre.

  • A license shall be granted for a maximum of 100 Watts, ERP, to be achieved through maximum 50 watt transmitter and antenna mounted at maximum 30 meters above ground level. In special circumstances, Government may provide 250 W ERP, to be decided on a case to case basis.
  • At least 50% of the content must be locally produced using local languages/dialects
  • A maximum of 5 minutes of advertising is permitted per hour. Local products to be promoted.
  • Broadcast of news is prohibited
  • Radio station must be based on the principles of community participation and management
  • No radio station can attach the word FM to its name. It must call itself Community Radio.
  • Only once license to be granted per institution/organization
  • License is non-transferable
  • Programs must be for 4-8 hours and must be for the development of the defined community.
  • License is valid for a period of five (5) years, after which it can be renewed.
  • Sponsorship of programs is allowed only from State and Central Government agencies

Process of Application

Step 1: Download application form from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting website. Also available here

Step 2: After you receive a Letter of Intent (LOI) from the Ministry of Information of Broadcasting, you should apply for a SACFA and frequency clearance. The application should be made online at the WPC website. This should be followed up by submitting the same along with a map (obtained from District Administration), and a Demand Draft of 1000 Rupees.

Step 3: After the SACFA clearance, you should apply for a Grant of Permission Agreement (GOPA), with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or also available [here]

Step 4: After getting the GOPA, you should apply for the Wireless Operating License (WOL), from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which is valid for a period of five years.

(Comment.gif: If you happen to be an educational institution, the process will take about six (6) months, and if you are an NGO, then it may take up to a year or little more. The time line for Agricultural University is still unclear.)

(Comment.gif: The WPC site is not Firefox compatible yet, so please use Internet Explorer 5.0 and above.)

Key Concerns

Check out this video listing some main concerns and status of community radio; produced in August 2008 by journalist and FOSS advocate, Frederick Noronha, speaking to long time community radio supporter and enthusiast, Sajan Venniyoor.

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After discussing the national policy on community radio, with several of the community radio stations on the field, some practical concerns were voiced by reporters, station managers and the management. These may be of interest to other radio stations as well:

  • Sponsorship of programming is allowed only from State and Central Government agencies. So if a local institution, say another NGO wants a radio program broadcast about its activities, how do we deal with it? Should we accept an advertisement from them? Or should we mention their name in the radio program, and then we can just accept a "donation" from them. Shouldn't sponsorship of programs come within the ambit of individual radio stations?

A response from Karen McHarg, community radio practitioner: Programming and advertising do not touch. Advertisers never tell programmers/stations what to broadcast, and you don’t “sell” air time. However, that’s not the same as having a program that is about an NGO’s activities. Celebrate that! But also be honest about it and address flaws if that’s the situation…it shouldn’t come off as a “infomercial”…if it’s a good organization, doing good work, it will take care of explaining itself. It also shouldn’t pre-empt you from being able to air Public Service Announcements for worthy causes. We’re not talking about Coke having airtime here…in Canada, we had stiffer internal regulations on what kind of advertisers we’d allow to access our listeners than the Government regulations. (ie no cocacola, no mcdonalds, no car companies, etc)

  • Can we play film songs on our radio? We want to do development work, but at the same time we know that people listening to our programs is also equally important. And with the culture of private entertainment based radio stations already widely prevalent, we need to play popular songs if we want to get listenership.

Karen's response: We would struggle with this too (the whole hit to non hit), again, Canada is a different situation, but the community stations here have taken on the “we support local and emerging artists” approach…That being said though, there are more and more remote community stations getting licensed to serve smaller more northern communities that play more hits than your average inner-city college based station, and that just stands to reason. The city stations are attracting listeners who are not afraid to try something new, as well as the “communities within our communities” (our Jamaican show is HUGE, so is our Punjabi show)…as perhaps my doing a Canadian Music Show in Bangalore would be for a specific audience. But in rural India…I think you have to balance your “hit to non-hit”, or in your case “film to non-film” percentages…I would think if this is not dictated by the laws governing community radio, I suggest you try to make some sort of simple policy that makes it easier for new stations to follow as well…our general mantra is 10 to 1 (we say for every Elvis song you play, you have to play 10 songs no-one knows)…It’s not quite that simple, but it makes it easy to tell volunteers “we’re not hit radio”…we do this instead…but it’s not a LAW…it’s just a guideline. (We do however have to play 35% Canadian Content by law) So maybe start at “we only play 40% film music…or 25%...what ever seems like a compromise)

  • If we need to pay to broadcast film songs, who do we need to pay and how much? How does the royalty payment system work? Also if this fee is unaffordable for us as a community radio station, can we bargain for cheaper rates/discounts?

Karen's response: Again, here we pay a percentage of our operating budget to SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada). (And ye, we have negotiated a different amount…but it’s sectoral) If the equivalent agency exists in India, I would think it should be their duty to figure out what kind of dues you’ll have to pay for the right to play music (period). They do occasional surveys of our playlists (once every quarter, we submit play sheets detailing each song played for a three day period). They collect the same type thing from all the commercial radio stations, and television stations, and bars that play music, and shopping centre stores with music etc. They tally all their numbers and send off the royalty cheques to the lucky artists…usually not the ones we play!! So, really, this is a big agency responsible for the rights to many many songs by many many artists. They should be on to community radio in the next decade or so. I’m pretty sure for the first decade or two in Canada, Socan paid little attention to us…now with the music industry tanking due to downloading, Socan wants money form everyone! But it won’t be a piecemeal thing…it will apply to the “sector” and you could see how it works for the commercial radio sector there…

  • Can we invite community members to sing their favorite film songs? Can we invite local orchestra bands/musicians to do cover versions of popular songs? Can we do instrumental version of film songs? How does the law treat these things?

Karen's response: I’m pretty sure they can sing/perform as long as it’s not for sale…that being said…I know “cover bands” here have to pay Socan fees!! But, honestly, you should go ahead and do it. I wouldn’t start asking for more regulation than you already have. The arm of our Government responsible for radio and television is largely reactive as opposed to proactive. (Most times I think I’d try to keep it that way). Until someone complains…do what you do… If some one takes issue with it, ask who you should register with to have rights to sing songs…but don’t assume you can’t…assume you can. Presidents can be set over the course of time to determine this kind of thing.

  • Is there a minimum time for which broadcast of songs is considered infringement of copyright? For example, if broadcast of more than 30 seconds of music is considered infringement, can we broadcast 28 seconds and interrupt it with spoken word, and then get back to playing that music?

Karen's response: I don’t think interrupting the song would make any difference!! But nice try!!! :) Only one more thing to say… try “soliciting” artists or labels for music. Let people/musicians know that you play new recordings, or old recordings, but that you are ‘building” a music library. If the artists/labels send you music, surely they want you to play it!! It’s exposure. As I’ve said, the “SOCAN’ equivalent will expose itself when C.R. is established enough to not be “one by one” rules and regs. These types of levies or taxes should be standardized to the sector, not established station by station…it might just be too soon…lucky for you I’d say!

  • The policy says that broadcast of news is prohibited, but if we can't talk about local affairs, then what is the point of a community radio station? Is there a way of getting around this news ban? Will we be in trouble if we sing out or dramatize local news?
  • Can we re-broadcast news or even other content which is already being broadcast on public radio, like All India Radio? or perhaps from the public TV channel, Doordarshan? Would we have to get permission from these agencies for this?
  • The policy says that we can't broadcast anything to do with religion, but there are two main responses to this. One is that even the local private entertainment based FM channel plays devotional songs every morning, so why can't we? The other point is that our folk songs and devotional songs are sometimes the same thing! So can't we play them as folk songs? Anyway, our community has a majority of Hindus, almost 99%, so it won't cause a problem if we play devotional songs, in fact, everybody will expect it!
  • How do we accurately distinguish from governance and politics? The policy does not allow community radio to get into politics through programming, which is fair enough, but on the other hand, we want to get into governance as it is a critical area of development in our area. How do we ensure that we are not violating any policy when we engage with local government agencies?
  • Apparently no bilateral agency support can be taken to support our radio station. The government has not really come forward with any support. The UN support is extremely minimal. Our radio station is situated in the back of beyond, so getting consistent advertising is tough. How on earth do we sustain ourselves? Is there a list of funding agencies who will support at least initial equipment and running costs?
  • Getting advertisements and sponsorship and funding from the government is ok, but will that not compromise our editorial independence as a media house? But it looks like we don't have any other options for the moment.
  • We are not allowed to use any swear words, which is again fair enough, but how problematic is it, if it happens by chance? Our communities, when comfortable talking, do happen to swear frequently! Its not aggressive but cultural, just a habit. Secondly, how do we avoid this? Does this mean we can't do live programming in case someone violates some aspect of the policy or the other?