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Expert group on FM broadcasting planned

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI JULY 9. The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has decided to set up an expert group on FM broadcasting to suggest measures for its quick expansion and diversification in the second phase.

An announcement to this effect is likely soon as the Ministry is finalising the list of experts who would form the group. While the panel would review the FM policy as a whole, some of the issues it will be asked to look into include FDI in agencies seeking a licence and news on private FM.

Of the view that the various media ought to be put on a level-playing field, the Ministry now appears open to allowing FDI in private FM channels as has been permitted in the print and visual media. Though foreign participation is allowed in private FM channels, it is restricted to limited portfolio investments by foreign institutional investors, NRI and overseas corporate bodies.

As for programming on private FM, the panel will be asked to suggest measures to diversify it so that listeners get more than film and popular music from these radio stations.

Also, the contentious issue of allowing news on private FM channels will also be looked into.

The Ministry has almost made up its mind to await the expert group's report before moving into the second phase of FM broadcasting. It could be a while before smaller towns find a place on this particular radio frequency.

In the first phase, the Government had approved the issue of licences for FM broadcasting in 40 cities where two or more such stations could be set up with private participation.

Besides, in each of these 40 cities, one frequency was reserved for an educational channel to be run by the Human Resource Development Ministry. Though 29 companies were selected for allocation of 101 channels in 40 cities in an auction in March 2000, the high licence fee and bank guarantee delayed the operationalisation of many an FM station in the first phase.

Such being the case, the expert group is also expected to look at this aspect of the existing policy.

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