No spectrum fee hike for community radio

IN Media Business | 30/09/2012
After a sustained campaign, the steep fee hike for community radio was waived,
and hopes are high for this sector. A FREE SPEECH HUB report.

After a sustained campaign from community radio activists, the Indian government decided to waive the spectrum fee hike for community radio. Below is a press release from the ministry on the issue. And a statement from the community radio forum about its implications for freedom of expreession.

Press release

The Ministry of Communications & IT has decided to waive off spectrum fee for Community Radio Services (CRS). This follows requests received from National Advisory Council, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Community Radio Association for waiver of spectrum charges for Community Radio Services.

Keeping in mind that the Government’s role is to create an enabling environment for CRS, Sh Kapil Sibal, Minister of Communications & IT has asked Department of Telecom to evolve detailed guidelines by 12th October,  to ensure that the spectrum is optimally used and the channels use these airwaves only to inform and empower the common man.

It was felt that in the interest of inclusive and informed society, it is apt that Government provide the spectrum (airwaves) for CRS at zero cost. Although this  may result in an opportunity cost of not more than Rs. 25 lakh to the Government, the cost is far outweighed by the benefit of informed, empowered and inclusive local communities and the nation.
Sustainability is the biggest challenge for CRS. Community radio focuses on low cost and low return pattern of operations. Donor funding is crucial for CRS. As most of the donors come from local communities, this financing option is inadequate and irregular for CRS operating in remote areas and for the marginalized sections of the society.
Community Radio Services (CRS) plays a vital role in building vibrant communities, in mobilizing groups to action by informing and empowering citizens, in giving voice to the marginalized groups of society, and in bringing community needs to the attention of local and even national governments. CRS can prove to be an excellent tool for managing plurality in a society and for fostering democracy.

CRF statement on decision

Meanwhile, in a statement, The Community Radio Forum welcomes the Ministry of Communication & Information Technology's recent decision to waive spectrum fee for community radio stations. We feel this is an important step towards affirming the Supreme Court's recent decision to place public good as the most important touchstone for policy framing; and as a belated reaffirmation of TRAI's 2005 recommendation for such a waiver. 
We believe that community radio is a manifestation of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, in that access to media, and the right to voice are intrinsic to the concept of freedom of speech and expression. It is therefore heartening to see that this belief in the power and importance of community radio is shared by other Ministries. In this sense, MoCIT's constructive engagement with CR bodes very well for the future of the medium and for community media in this country; and we hope all the other Ministries involved in the process of approvals and clearances for CR licenses show a similar sense of purpose and understanding of the medium.
CRF looks forward to engaging with MoCIT and MoIB to work out the guidelines proposed by Shri Kapil Sibal as part of his announcement of the waiver; and expresses the hope that these guidelines will be developed in partnership with all relevant stakeholders. We also hope these guidelines will be reflective of the spirit and ethos of community participation and ownership that is enshrined in the CR policy; and that it significantly facilitates and foregrounds the need to facilitate the establishment of more CR stations in urban and rural India.

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