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Indian Prime Minister Turns to Radio

Broadcast initiative aims to reach masses in world’s second most populous country

Radio is getting unexpected “attention” in India thanks to the country’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

The question remains however if this attention is enough to give a boost to a medium that has struggled since the ascent of television in India in the 1980s and was strongly government-dominated for decades.

Modi, the country’s right-wing conservative leader, has been deploying radio to reach out to the nation with his “Maan Ki Baat” (“Speaking From The Mind”) monthly program since October 2014.

Broadcast in the Hindi language and reminiscent of the Fireside Chat radio addresses by President Roosevelt, the program is aired on the public broadcaster All India Radio and is also relayed on most private FM stations in the country.

Because television is not available everywhere in India, the program which touches on issues including health, drug prevention, culture and government initiatives, was specifically created for radio. With a team of six staff members working around the clock to produce Maan Ki Baat, the government has invested a reasonable amount of time and money on the project to assure its success. It also promotes the program through its official website.

AIR (which claims to attract 66 percent of the population in the six largest cities across the country) has been trying hard to re-invent itself in recent years, and this program appears to be one way of doing so. While it is the country’s only radio network allowed to broadcast news (a change in policy that allows FM stations to rebroadcast AIR news has been announced but not yet implemented), it faces tough competition from the private television sector.

The Economic Times commented in February 2015 that Maan Ki Baat (which some say has become “hard to avoid,” considering the number of stations on which it is available) has turned into “big business for AIR,” with a ten-second ad slot in the program costing Rs. 200,000 (approximately US$ 3,000), nearly 130 to 400 times higher than AIR’s average advertising rates.

— Frederick Noronha