HEARING THE UNHEARD

From forced Mann Ki Baat broadcasts to ban on politics, community radio in India is choking

The government insists that they stay away from politics and news, leaving them crippled in terms of content. The concluding part of our series on community radio.

India, with a population of 120 crore people, has 179 community radio stations, many of which are struggling to survive on shoe-string budgets. And they face constant government interference. The latest missive came from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on April 30 ordering community radio stations to record and send their daily programming schedules to Delhi over email.

The order, which was seen as a brutal form of crackdown over community voices, after its action on the non governmental organisations, was reversed the very next day because of a fear of backlash from the activists who have been long fighting cases in the courts to free up community radio in India from the clutches of the government.

While the latest order may have been withdrawn, community radio is far from free in the country, 13 years after the government first opened itself to the idea of having community-run radio services. Even now, the community radio stations are required to maintain archives for three months and the government is free to ask them for programming of a certain day in case it receives a complaint.

However, an official at the I&B ministry claimed that not one complaint has been received in the history of community radios in India.

“The format is self correcting, if you violate community sentiments nobody will hear you,” said the official, requesting anonymity. “The government should be trying to promote, instead of curtailing, the freedom of community radios.”

Only dance and drama

The policy guidelines framed for community radio services bar stations from airing anything remotely political or news-like. The problem arises because the restriction has made the radio lose its relevance and importance for certain communities.

“The policy document is so loosely worded that it hangs like a sword over us all,” said Hemant Babu, director of Nomad Communication which manufactures transmitters and helps set up community radio stations across the country. “Anything could be political or newsworthy for the government when it tries to prosecute you and there’s no way of getting out of it.”

Shubhranshu Choudhary, who has won accolades for his work with community radio and citizen journalism in Chhattisgarh, agrees. “All that we have on community radio is government propaganda, dance and music,” he said. “Nothing remotely political or newsworthy can be transmitted. A farmer needs to know what’s happening around him and a fisherman cares about high-low tide more than he cares about what new scheme the government has come up with.”

The grouse of not being able to air news programmes is one of the few common things between community and commercial radio stations as they stand together to support a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court which argues that radio is the only media barred from broadcasting news in the country.

“India is perhaps the lone democracy where the dissemination of news and current affairs programmes on radio remains a monopoly of the government-owned broadcaster, Prasar Bharati Corporation, which owns and operates All India Radio/Akashvaani,” the petition by the NGO Common Cause stated.

Calling the different policies for community and commercial radio stations “discriminatory”, the petition argues for the government to allow political news as well since a lot of news like weather updates is already bundled under the banner of “information”.

Arm-twisting tactics

From attempts at monitoring to informal circulars advising these radios to run programmes on Prime Minister’s pet projects such as Mann Ki Baat and Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan, those who operate these services don’t view the recent decisions in a very positive light.

“These are not orders, these are ‘strong advisories’ for the broadcasters to do Mann Ki Baat and other programmes,” said Babu. “Many of our partners claim that they are forced to broadcast because otherwise their grants will be delayed and they would be arm-twisted further.”

The I&B official corroborated this. “Over time, the screening committee on community radios is being overruled by orders from the top,” he said. “From broadcasting government programmes to granting of licenses, nothing has ever worked on principle.”

Back door entry

Evidently, people like Shubhranshu Choudhary and Hemant Babu have been waiting for licenses to come their way while government departments have been getting licenses in complete violation of the guidelines.

The government of Madhya Pradesh’s tribal affairs department Vanya has at least two community radio stations listed under its name even though the policy document clearly bars any political or government arm from obtaining a license.

Similarly, religious groups have long been receiving licenses, despite the screening committee rejecting their applications. “In such cases, the government manages to overrule whatever we suggest,” said a member of the committee, on condition of anonymity. “There are many temples, churches and other religious organisations in India running community radios under the garb of being an NGO while we all know that they are not.”

Hemant Babu, who has applied for a license of starting a community radio in Maharashtra, said that his application has been pending for four years now. “We have fulfilled all the necessary conditions yet it’s turning out hard to obtain the permission,” he said. “On the other hand there are radios operating out of temples in Karnataka where saints and demigods sit and broadcast their messages to the community violating all guidelines.”

For the first part of our series on community radio, click here.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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