DELHI — Following the change in the country’s
government earlier this year, the Indian Information and Broadcasting Ministry
has ordered that its Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) begin real-time
broadcast radio monitoring as soon as practically possible.
Morning show host, Soumya Jha interviews a media
expert on Gurgaon ki Awaaz, a community radio
station in the National Capital
Region of Delhi.
Photos courtesy of
UNESCO Chair on Community Media
The organization checks
the contents of broadcast programming for compliance against the Indian
broadcast content and advertising codes. This new policy has been gradually
implemented over the recent months.
EMMC already collects and analyzes the output of some 300 of India’s nearly 800
television stations, but the additional monitoring, initially of more than 100
private commercial FM stations and some 30 or more or the longest established nonprofit
community radio stations, on a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week basis, will demand
considerable additional resources.
will be particularly challenging when it comes to retrieving signals from some
of the more rural community services that broadcast to remote small (10- to 15-kilometer
radius) areas spread out across many parts of this very large country.
The technical mechanisms
that will be used to gather the various broadcast radio signals are primarily
based on broadband Internet capture and streaming of real-time audio. Such an
approach will work where suitable infrastructure exists and where electrical
power and telecommunications networks are generally reliable.
However, in parts of
India, even in some of the large cities, this is not always the case and any
power outages will inevitably degrade the ability of the EMMC to capture
station outputs comprehensively. In certain rural areas, alternative approaches
may be required, because fixed broadband infrastructure and even mains
electricity are not universally available.
Assuming that the
various practical technicalities of capturing station outputs are successfully
overcome, the EMMC is also likely to encounter subsequent challenges when it
comes to translating the many and various minority languages used on some
Given the scale of
monitoring proposed, it seems highly unlikely that EMMC staff will always be
capable of fluently understanding all of the spoken word content being
broadcast. Under such circumstances, when concerns are raised, it is likely
that recordings may require further analysis by specialist linguists.
Established in 2008, as
a result of government policy developments, the EMMC is currently enjoying a
period of considerable expansion. As well as the introduction of broadcast
radio monitoring, on the television side, the number of stations monitored is
expected to double to some 600.
MORE COMMUNITY STATIONS
present, approximately 100 people are employed at the EMMC central office in Soochna
Bhawan, New Delhi, where they work around the clock in eight-hour shifts.
Initially, around 15 members of staff are expected to take responsibility for
radio monitoring. The group’s 2013–14 operational cost of INRs717 million (approx.
US$11.7 million) is expected to almost double in 2014–15 to INRs1,375 million (approx.
The ministry has been
careful not to claim that all licensed broadcasters will be comprehensively monitored
immediately, suggesting that the output of “selected” stations will analyzed in
the first instance. If comprehensive monitoring is the longer-term goal, then
the EMMC is going to need to grow considerably more over the coming years.
At present, India
already has well over 170 operational community radio stations, and the government
in New Delhi has also issued permissions for up to a further 400 new stations.
Clearly planning to extend the sector still further, this year’s central government
budget included INRs1,000 million (approx. US$16.3 million) which Finance
Minister Arun Jaitley announced would be used to “support about 600 new and
existing community stations” in a move intended “to encourage growth in this
Bundelkhand community radio reporter recording a field interview in a village
in central India.
Prior to the
announcement of this new policy, private commercial radio stations were
expected to store 90 days of output recordings for delivery to the EMMC as and
when required, but community radio broadcasters were not being routinely
monitored at all by the Indian state.
Because there has been
no suggestion that any serious licensing violations have been occurring, it is
not yet clear what the driver behind this new policy might be. However, the
fact that stations in more remote areas are currently almost entirely beyond
any form of practical regulatory oversight could well be a factor.
In terms of wider policy
issues, the introduction of centralized monitoring of radio outputs may however
be linked to helping advance the issue of news and current affairs broadcasting
on the country’s private and community radio stations.
records a show at community station Radio Must in Mumbai.
present, the government’s All India Radio (AIR) is the only terrestrial broadcaster
permitted to provide such output, but Information and Broadcasting Minister
Prakash Javadekar speaking in Mumbai, asked “why should FM channels be banned
from broadcasting news? EMMC is considering allowing privately-owned FM radio
channels to start their own news.”
report published at the end of August by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of
India (TRAI), “Recommendations on Issues Related to Community Radio Stations,” concluded
that, in future, community stations should be permitted to rebroadcast the news
outputs of AIR and be permitted to accurately translate such news into relevant
local languages and dialects.
although the authority recognized the importance of self-generated local news
and current affairs for community radio broadcasters, it noted the “scope for
misuse of this facility” and concluded that in absence of an “effective
monitoring mechanism” it should not yet be permitted.
prohibition on news and current affairs broadcasting has been a source of considerable
contention since experimental private commercial radio stations began operating
in India as long ago as the early 1990s.
is particularly problematic for community stations, which have now been
operating in the country for over 10 years. These stations typically focus on
fostering community cohesion and development, broadcasting a wide variety of
locally relevant information in support of such aims.
point out that if the Indian government is
really serious about driving forward the development of this sector, then this
is an issue that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.
Hallett researches and teaches radio broadcasting at the University of Bedfordshire
in the United Kingdom, he can be contacted by e-mail: email@example.com.