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AIR news bulletins on FM soon: Javadekar

It was an unlikely place to make big-bang announcements, but newly appointed Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Prakash Javadekar indicated his priorities on the sidelines of the Goafest, where he made the keynote address on Saturday.

Speaking to media personnel, Javadekar, 63, said phase three of the FM radio licence auction would happen shortly. “I am meeting all FM (frequency modulation) channels. And there is just one demand (from operators) that phase three should be auctioned at the earliest. It will happen shortly,” he said.

The statement is significant as the auction of 839 FM radio channels in the third phase has been overdue. An empowered group of ministers under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had given its clearance to the auction last year. But the auction did not begin.

Phase three will pave the way for carriage of news bulletins (only of All India Radio), which operators have said is critical for content diversification.

Javadekar laid out his plan for the first 100 days. “There are three key priorities. First is our social media engagement plan, already underway. We have set up a social media hub in the ministry, which I am urging all ministries to use. Next, there are several pending issues that need to be resolved decisively, mainly cross media ownership and (TV) ratings-related issues. And the last one, which is very close to my heart, is to get Prasar Bharti and All India Radio on their way to being competitive and best-in-class.”

Javadekar indicated that the ministry would take a call on increasing FDI in news media, capped at 26 per cent for newspapers and news channels, after speaking to all stakeholders. “FDI in the news business already exists. We will take a decision about opening up the sector further after speaking with all stakeholders and businesses and seeing how they may get impacted by the decision. We are, however, not stopping local media (groups) from partnering with global media (groups).”

On cross-media holdings, Javadekar said it would be debated at length given the recent move of Reliance Industries to acquire full control of media group Network 18. “There are two views on this. On the one hand, one can say what’s wrong with it. It is just another business interest. As one owns, say, a cement or construction business, one owns a media business. But, on the other hand, the concern is regarding the freedom of media. What will happen if just three or four players take over the media business? There could be potential monopolisation. That is precisely why we have the rule whereby in case of private treaties, media houses must reveal their stakes in companies when reporting about them.”

Javadekar, who holds additional charge of the environment ministry, said he would take a call shortly on reallowing mining in Goa in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to permit mining up to 20 million tonnes.

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