Community Radio – where is the community? Part II

How state governments, politicians, and indirect corporate interests have wormed their way into community radio stations, violating the spirit of the original intention.
ANUSHI AGRAWAL AND DEVI LEENA BOSE report

 

Community Radio (CR) is often defined as the media run by the community, for the community, and has consequently often evaded the scrutiny of media scholars studying media ownership patterns. In the first article of this three-part series, we spoke primarily of three emerging ownership trends in CR: of radio stations being co-opted either by government and politicians, or indirect corporate control, or religiosity. In this second part, we examine the first two trends.

In our sample of 18 stations we found emerging trends of ‘proxy ownership’ by ‘parent organisations’ where the actual ownership was not with the community representatives but controlled by powerful and vested interests including state ministries, central departments, and even various security forces. Politicians, their family members and close allies also seem to be interested in CR. There are even clear indications of corporate control in the CR sector.  

 

The politics of community interest

CR guidelines say that “political parties and their affiliate organizations (such as students, women, trade unions and such other wings affiliated to these parties)” were “not eligible to run a CRS.”[i]

However, the example of the BJP’s election campaign strategy in the 2016 Kerala assembly election was an eye-opener. The party in the state was instructed to exploit platforms like CR to the hilt as it is one of the best means to reach the rural population and communicate government and party programmes.

M.T. Ramesh, vice president of the state committee, said the BJP would extend all help to like-minded NGOs to operationalise the radio stations in the state.[ii] Although the talks with CR experts in Kerala didn’t substantiate whether this strategy was actually pursued, nonetheless, the intent and discussion within the party shows that CR stations stand the risk of being appropriated by political parties.

At the CR Sammelan (2015), the then Joint Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), accepted that an advisory was sent to the CR stations to air ‘Mann ki Baat’. She explained that it was a “strong request” to play the clip and “I hope we all know what it means.” In a veiled threat, she hinted at government scrutiny.[iii]

In our study, out of the sample of 18 stations, six were actually either owned by government departments or were related to politicians and their allies. Even security organizations were interested in launching CR stations.[iv]  However, the sample scrutinised for this study only gives ‘indications’ of co-option by government or political ownership. 

 

Co-option of CR by government

The government is not mentioned in the list of eligible applicants, but it is not barred either. This leaves a grey area. Vanya, which is an NGO initiated and managed by the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Department, owned CR stations in eight districts of the state. The ownership was either directly in Vanya’s name, or in the name of other state-owned entities such as Ucchtar Madhyamik Vidyalayas.

 

"The government is not mentioned in the list of eligible applicants, but it is not barred either. This leaves a grey area. "

 

Vanya Radio, located in Bhabhara and owned by Vanya Prakashan, is a society registered by the state’s Ministry of Tribal Affairs.[v] On the society’s website[vi], the Chairman of the Board of Directors is mentioned as either the Minister, State Minister, Principal Secretary, or Secretary in the ministry. The Vice Chairman will be the Commissioner, Tribal Affairs, MP. There were 12 other directors; all of them were central and state bureaucrats.[vii]

Under the head, ‘schemes implemented by Vanya’, its website disclosed the details of its eight CR stations, and claimed that “Vanya Radio has become an effective medium for easy delivery of government’s public welfare schemes to the tribal societies inhabited in remote regions of the state.”[viii] In fact, the website said that it plans to own 110 stations across MP. [ix]

CR expert, Pooja Murada, Director (Communications), SM Sehgal Foundation, a trust that owns a CR station in Mewat, Haryana, feels that “It is okay for the state to use CR to reach the tribals as one cannot expect the tribals or their internal organizations to go through the complex CR licensing process. Thus, it may be better for the state governments to approach them additionally through the CR route, explain its schemes to them, and try to win their hearts and souls.”

However, when All India Radio already has Local Radio Stations and can open more, the point to discuss is: could community radio licence holders then be state agencies?

In our sample we found that few stations were owned by either educational institutions or societies, which were a part of central ministries and departments. Ilanthair, a station in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, is owned by the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development. The institute was set up under the Societies Registration Act and under an Act of Parliament and is controlled by the central Ministry of Youth Affairs. The individuals who managed the society included the secretary in the ministry and IAS officer Lalit Gupta.[x]

In sensitive areas – either border ones or those affected by left wing extremism – security agencies wish to enter the segment to achieve ‘government’ objectives. While the Border Security Force (BSF) wants to set up stations in Manipur[xi], the Jharkhand Police hopes to do the same in Maoists districts.[xii]   

 

"In sensitive areas – either border ones or those affected by left wing extremism – security agencies wish to enter the segment to achieve ‘government’ objectives."

 

According to Gopal Krishna, DIG, Sector HQs CI (Ops), BSF, the Manipur station will “disseminate information beneficial to the common people in a way different from the All India Radio” and “provide information on agriculture, health, education and other sectors.”[xiii] However, the Jharkhand Police spokesperson, SN Pradhan, told a newspaper the proposed stations would try to win back the support of the locals and bring them closer to the government.[xiv]

Vinod Pavarala, chair holder, UNESCO Chair for Community Media, thinks that the ownership of stations by security agencies is a serious departure. “If these entities (BSF and Jharkhand Police) can legitimately get licences as government organizations, it is definitely a violation of the spirit of community ownership. However, if the BSF is given licences as BSF itself, then one should definitely ask how that has happened and under which provisions of the policy. Of course, unless there is a roundabout manner in which it has got licences through (the agency’s) welfare societies,” he explains. 

But, juxtapose CR ownership by security agencies with the fact that the MIB rejected dozens of applications from NGOs in Jharkhand for almost a decade.[xv] The minutes of a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee, which approves CR licences and is headed by Secretary, MIB, on June 27, 2008, said: “MHA (Central Ministry of Home Affairs) representative explained that IB (Intelligence Bureau) was not granting clearance due to terrorist activities in Jharkhand.”[xvi]

Fortunately, according to a recent media report,[xvii] the “Centre has given up its apprehensions and agreed to set up community radio stations in some of the most notorious red-corridors to give voice to those living in these Naxalite-hit regions.” MIB cleared two CR licences in Jharkhand and seven in Chhattisgarh. MIB Secretary Bimal Jhulka explained, “The community radio in insurgency-hit areas will help in quick dissemination of information, especially decisions taken by the local panchayats.”

 

Indirect government ownership

As of August 2015, only two stations functioned in border areas – one in Kutch (Gujarat) and the other in Jammu (Jammu & Kashmir).[xviii] The case of Radio Sharda, which is located in Jammu, is interesting. It is owned by the Pir Panchal Cultural, Educational, Social, Environment and Sports Organization, headed by Ramesh Hangloo, and works in the interests of Kashmiri Pandits, who have migrated from the Valley since 1989. Hangloo a licence but the application by Kashmir University wasn’t entertained, and that of Jammu University was in a limbo.[xix]

In an interview with the authors, Hangloo said that he was a former journalist who has been involved in social service for decades. However, according to our sources, his elder brother works in the state’s Relief & Rehabilitation Commissioner’s office. The land for the station was given by the Commissioner’s office. In fact, the then Revenue, Relief & Rehabilitation Minister, Raman Bhalla, launched Radio Sharda on December 5, 2011.[xx] The involvement of the Commissioner’s office, as well as the concerned ministry, indicates links with government agencies.

“The Relief and Rehabilitation department has provided us with space to operate the station for the past six years. Otherwise, there are no running costs that we get from it. We approached the then Commissioner and he was interested in our NGO as it helped the communities to preserve language and culture, and connected people,” said Hangloo. When asked if his brother worked with the Relief & Rehabilitation Commissioner’s office, Hangloo responded: “I know a lot of such people (in government service). Some of them are relatives, and others are not.”

 

Why the Sharad Pawar family is keen on CR

In Baramati, Maharashtra, Vasundhara Krishi Vahini is owned by the Vidya Pratishtan’s Institute of Technology.[xxi] Of the Vidya Pratishtan’s 12 members on the Board of Trustees, the President was Sharad Pawar, head of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), who has held several central ministries and state’s chief ministership. Other trustees include Ajitrao Pawar, his nephew and former Deputy Chief Minister of the state, and Supriya S. Sule, his daughter. Another trustee, Sunetra A. Pawar, is Ajitrao’s wife. The Pawar family managed the trust and funded its activities.[xxii][xxiii]

Another station in Baramati (the Pawars’ constituency for decades), KVK Sharda Krishi Vahini, owned by a Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), was located on the land owned by the Agricultural Development Trust (ADT).[xxiv] In one of the documents, the owner of the station was listed as ADT, and not KVK.[xxv] Of the 12 members on the Board of Trustees, one was Pawar, who was listed as Founder-President. His daughter and elder brother were among the other trustees.

Sharad Pawar’s family is among the richest political families in India.[xxvi][xxvii] For them, CR is just one of the many media platforms that they influence. They also have stakes in the Sakal Media group which has a presence across online, print and broadcast media.[xxviii]

Arti Jaiman, who runs a CR station in Gurgaon, said: “For any politician, ownership of a CR station in his or her constituency is a dream come true.” She explains that even if a politician has a large constituency, the local CR station can have a footprint of around 15 kms, which is huge. She added: “Ownership of a CR station seems a natural (political) ally for politicians.”

Other experts agreed that there was something problematic about the Pawar connection with two CR stations. But a few justify these links. Hemant Babu, who has applied for a CR licence that hasn’t been cleared for five years, said: “The Baramati institution is entirely created and owned by Sharad Pawar. But if the NGOs that politicians run have nothing to do with the political parties they belong to, how do you have (or prove) linkages. And what do you mean by (political) linkages?” 

 

"Other experts agreed that there was something problematic about the Pawar connection with two CR stations. "

 

One can also argue about a gaping loophole in the CR guidelines on political ownership. It mentions that political parties and their affiliates cannot own a station, but there is no mention of individual politicians. Thus, while the Pawar kind of ownership violates the spirit of the guidelines, it adheres to the letter. Any political party can bypass the guidelines by getting a CR licence through an NGO floated by one of its senior politicians. And, in a country like India, several politicians have several NGOs.

 

Table 1: CR and links with political and government interests

S. No.

Name of the CR

Location

Ownership Type

Name of the Licence holder

Name of the Parent Organization

Linkages

1

Sharada Krishi Vahini

Baramati, Maharashtra

Political

Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Baramati

ICAR at Agricultural development Trust, Baramati

Links with Sharad Pawar and family

2

Vasundhara Krishi Vahini

Baramati, Maharashtra

Political

Vidya Pratishthan

NA

Links with Sharad Pawar and family

3

Ilanthalir CR

Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu

Govt

Rajeev Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, GoI

Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports

Supported by a government ministry

4

Kalapakkam CR

Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu

Govt

Atomic Energy Central School, Kalpakkam

Atomic Energy Education Society;

Department of Atomic Energy, Central govt

Links with a government department

5

Vanya Radio Bhabra

Bhabra, MP

Govt

Vanya Prakashan

Ministry of Tribal Welfare, Madhya Pradesh

Supported by a government ministry

6

Radio Shardha

Jammu, J&K

State Govt

Pir Panchal

NA

Indirectly linked to government department

Indirect corporate ownership 

The policy makers were clear that big business and big media had to be kept away from CR. This was stated, not once but twice, in the 2006 guidelines. In general, they said that CR stations should be owned and managed by the local communities, or organizations that represented them. In specifics, they barred entities that operated on for-profit motives from ownership.

However, our study showed that indirect corporate ownership was extensive in CR. Out of our sample of 18 stations, eight had links with private ‘for-profit’ companies. In letter, these stations followed the guidelines. In spirit, they violated the intentions of the policy.

The CR policy experts acknowledge that they never anticipated that the entities emerging from CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives could become active stakeholders of Community Radio. Sajan Veniyoor, who was involved in the formulation of the CR guidelines, said, “There is nothing to stop a business house from starting an NGO, which can legitimately apply for a licence. This is a backdoor entry into the media and CR sectors. This should have been anticipated earlier. We assumed that big NGOs, owned by big corporations, would be stopped at the screening committee stage.”  

 

Links with big media and philanthropy

Himgiri ki Awaaz, a station in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, is owned by Himgiri Zee University, which was set up under a state law. The university is managed by Taleem Research Foundation. Taleem “was founded by Shri Subhash Chandra as a literary, scientific and charitable society and trust in May 1996.”[xxix] Its website says it is “an initiative of the Essel Group to channelize part of its creative and financial resources to address issues of national concern.”[xxx]

Subhash Chandra became a Rajya Sabha member in June 2016 as a BJP-backed independent candidate from Haryana.[xxxi] He is also the chairman of the Essel Group, which has strong media interests in satellite channels, print, FM radio, cable distribution, DTH (Direct-to-Home) and the internet.[xxxii] Taleem’s activities are intertwined with these media interests; it has conducted election surveys and poll predictions for Zee Group’s news channels. [xxxiii]

Amardeep Singh, Station Manager, Himgiri ki Awaaz, when asked about the objective of the CR station, explained, “We are running the radio station under the authority of Himgiri Zee University, which is a part of the Essel Group. Our primary focus is on upliftment of the local community, and also other aspects related to social issues, environment, health, career-counselling, infotainment and entertainment.”

 

Links with big business and CSR 

Initially CR in India was opened up only for educational institutions. It was only in 2006 that NGOs and KVKs were allowed to apply for a CR licence. Most of the big educational institutes are either run by the government or are owned by big business groups. Most of the big business houses today have CSR arms, which are often registered as societies. When they apply for a CR licence, they do not violate the guidelines on paper. However, in principle this stands in contradiction to the guidelines, which deny entry to for-profit groups.

GMR Radio in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, was owned by the GMR Institute of Technology (GMRIT), whose founder was Grandhi Mallikarjuna Rao, popularly known as GMR. The institute is managed by the GMR Varalakshmi Foundation, the CSR arm of GMR Group, a South India-based corporate conglomerate with interests in airports, energy, transportation, urban infrastructure and sports (cricket).

The GMR family comprised six of the 15 directors in the Foundation.[xxxiv] One of its directors, Maheshwar Peri[xxxv], was earlier the publisher of Outlook Group’s magazines, which included Outlook, an English magazine. Now, Peri is Chairman and Founder, Careers360, which owns an education magazine.[xxxvi] We tried to contact GMRIT to understand if the GMR foundation has any influence on the content of the CR station, but got any response.

Radio Vishwas in Nashik, Maharashtra, was owned by Vishwas Dnyan Prabodhini & Research Institute.[xxxvii] Although details of the institute are not available, Vishwas Thakur’s website highlights that he is the Secretary of this Institute. At the age of 27, Thakur, who heads Vishwas Cooperative Bank, is said to be the youngest founder-chairman in the Indian cooperative banking segment. The bank shows the CR station as part of its operations.[xxxviii] We contacted Radio Vishwas with queries related to a complaint lodged against them by local radio stations for airing Bollywood songs because this puts the CR directly in competition with commercial FM radio stations but we received no response.

Since 2004, CR guidelines have allowed licensing to educational institutes. However, big business groups own many of the private educational institutes which have been issued CR licences. The bigwigs of the business group often feature as member of the governing council, board of governors, management of the institute or the trust or the society running the educational institute. This amounts to indirect corporate ownership in CR. While the licence is in the name of the educational institute, the CR has to comply with the overall control and management by the business group running the educational institute.

Micavani was owned by the Ahmedabad-based academic institution, MICA. The latter’s parent was the Mudra Foundation for Communications Research and Education and part of the Mudra Group. Prior to 2011, Anil Ambani, Chairman, ADA Group, was the owner of the Mudra Group. In 2011, he sold a 41% stake and held a 49% in his personal capacity.[xxxix] Today, the Mudra Group is part of the Mumbai-based DDB Mudra Group which has interests in advertising and communications.

Many of the educational institutes use CR stations as a media lab to increase their weightage under the infrastructure and learning resources for obtaining National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) accreditation. However, a lot is left to be desired in terms of understanding communities and catering to community needs by these educational institutes.  Critics also suggest that this seems like a backdoor entry for the corporates. For the business groups, it is a cheap way to enter FM broadcasting as they can get CR licences for Rs 20,000 each compared to crores of rupees needed for commercial FM. Even though the (audience) footprint of a CR station is small, it still means a foot in the door.   

 

Table 2: Indirect corporate ownership of CR

S. No.

Name of the CR

Location

Ownership Type

Name of the License holder

Name of the Parent Organization

Linkages

1

GMR Radio

Srikakulum, AP

Corporate

GMR Institute of Technology

GMR Varalakshmi Foundation

Connected to GMR Group

2

Radio Vishnu

Bhimava-ram, AP

Corporate

Sri Vishnu Educational Society

Sri Vishnu Group including Sri Vishnu Cements

Connected to Sri Vishnu Group

3

Uttam Radio

Patna, Bihar

Corporate

Institute of Business Manage-ment

-

Founder has been the president of Indian Commerce Association and ex- vice president of Computers Society of India

4

Mind Tree CR

Ambala, Punjab

Corporate

Mind Tree School

Intellisis Resources Pvt. Ltd.

Founder also runs MBA coaching institute -  Bull's Eye

5

Radio Amity

Noida, UP

Corporate

Amity University

Ritnand Balved Education Foundation

Connected to AKC Group

6

Himgiri ki Awaaz

Dehradun, Uttrakhand

Corporate

Himgiri Zee University

Taleem Research Foundation

Connected to Zee group, Subhash Chandra is on the governing board of the parent organization

7

Micavani

Ahmadabad Gujarat

Corporate

MICA

Mudra Foundation for Communications Research and Education

Connected to Mudra Group and many others in the governing council associated with different corporate houses

8

Radio Manipal

Manipal, Karnataka

Corporate

Manipal Institute of Communication, Manipal University

Manipal Foundation

Connected with Manipal Group whose founder is Dr TMA Pai

9

Radio Vishwas

Nashik, Maharashtra

 

Vishwas Dnyan Probodhini & Research Institute

-

Cooperative Bank

Co-option by the government, political linkages in Community Radio and indirect corporate ownership of Community Radio stations are the trends that need to be watched and analysed. Only then can the various stakeholders, including the policy makers, take corrective action. 

 

This research was supported by the Inclusive Media UNDP Fellowship 2015 awarded to Devi Leena Bose and Anushi Agrawal.

 

Community Radio – where is the community?  Part I

 


[i] Policy Guidelines for Setting up Community Radio Stations in India. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://crfc.in/policy-guidelines-for-setting-up-community-radio-stations-in-india/

[iii] As witnessed by the authors present at the CR Sammelan 2015.

[iv] Radio stations in Maoist-hit areas soon. (2016, January 19). The Times of India. Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ranchi/Radio-stations-in-Maoist-hit-areas-soon/articleshow/50634595.cms

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[x] Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development. Executive Council Members. Retrieved from http://www.rgniyd.gov.in/content/executive-council-members-0

[xi] BSF to launch community radio in Imphal. (2008, October 17). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.radioandmusic.com/biz/radio/community-radio/bsf-launch-community-radio-imphal

[xii] Radio stations in Maoist-hit areas soon. (2016, January 19). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ranchi/Radio-stations-in-Maoist-hit-areas-soon/articleshow/50634595.cms

[xiii] BSF to launch community radio in Imphal. (2008, October 17). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.radioandmusic.com/biz/radio/community-radio/bsf-launch-community-radio-imphal

[xiv] Radio stations in Maoist-hit areas soon. (2016, January 19). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ranchi/Radio-stations-in-Maoist-hit-areas-soon/articleshow/50634595.cms

[xv] Naxal threat prevents CR growth in Jharkhand. Ek duniya anek awaaz. Retrieved from http://edaa.in/updates/naxal-threat-prevents-cr-growth-in-jharkhand

[xvi] Through Sources

[xvii] New CR Stations to come up in red corridor. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://crfc.in/new-cr-stations-to-come-up-in-red-corridor/

[xviii] Only two community radio stations in border areas so far, I&B admits. (2015, August 10). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.radioandmusic.com/biz/radio/community-radio/only-two-community-radio-stations-border-areas-so-far-ib-admits-150811

[xix]List of Rejected/Returned/Withdrawn Applications, as on 30.6.2016. Retrieved from  http://mib.nic.in/WriteReadData/documents/Rejected_list._.....pdf

[xx] KPs launch radio station in Jammu. (2011, December 6). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/jammu/kps-launch-radio-station-in-jammu/109208.html

[xxi] Vidya Pratishthan Institute of Information Technology. Retrieved from  http://viitindia.org/viit/?s=CR+station

[xxii] Vidya Pratishthan Institute of Information Technology. Board of Trustees. Retrieved  http://viitindia.org/viit/?page_id=2393

[xxiv] Agricultural Development Trust Baramati, Facilities available at ADT. Retrieved from http://www.agridevelopmenttrustbaramati.org/facilities.aspx

[xxv] Community Radio Facilitation Centre. Database of CR Stations. Retrieved from http://crfc.in/list-of-cr-station/ 

[xxvi] Shri Sharad Pawar. Myneta.info. Retrieved from  http://myneta.info/unionministers2011/candidate.php?candidate_id=3

[xxvii] Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule declares Rs 31.62 crore assets (2014, 27 March) The Indian Express. Retrieved from http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/sharad-pawars-daughter-supriya-sule-declares-rs-31-62-cr-assets/

[xxviii] Sakal Media Group. Media Businesses. Retrieved from http://www.sakalmediagroup.com/media-businesses/

[xxix] Essel Group. Essel Cares TALEEM. Retrieved from http://www.esselgroup.com/taleem.html

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Subash Chandra wins RS seat as 12 Cong votes were rejected due to ‘wrong pen’. (2016, June12). Retrieved from http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/subhash-chandra-wins-rs-poll-as-12-cong-votes-were-rejected-due-to-wrong-pen/story-pVv4dssn0Zz2hWsWpAd8wO.html

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] BJP to win 202-211 seats in General Elections: Zee-Taleem Poll Survey. (2014, March 14). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://zeenews.india.com/news/nation/bjp-to-win-202-211-seats-in-general-elections-zee-taleem-poll-survey_918029.html

[xxxiv] GMR Varalakshmi Foundation. Quick Company. Retrieved from https://www.quickcompany.in/company/gmr-varalakshmi-foundation

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Career 360. Retrieved from http://www.careers360.com/about-us#s4

[xxxvii] Community Radio Facilitation Centre. Database of CR Stations. Retrieved from http://crfc.in/list-of-cr-station/

[xxxviii] Vishwas Co-op Bank Ltd. Retrieved from http://www.vishwasbank.com/

[xxxix] Anil Ambani gets Rs 700 cr as Mudra goes to US advertising giant Omnicom. (2011, December 14). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-11-01/news/30346067_1_omnicom-mudra-group-ddb-mudra

 

 

 

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