Community radio—where is the community?

BY DEVI LEENA BOSE| IN Community Media | 28/10/2016
Investigating community radio ownership--Part I. Out of 196 CR stations how many have been captured by government or corporate interests?
DEVI LEENA BOSE reports on a 10 per cent sampling

Logos of the some of the CR stations studied 


Community radio is perhaps the only thriving poster child compared to other forms of community media in India. Since the late 1990s, there was sustained demand for ‘opening up the airwaves’ (Pavarala, 2007). Radio was perceived as the appropriate medium for the largely illiterate population.

As private and public media grew after liberalization, policy makers and civil society felt the need for a third tier of broadcasting which would provide an opportunity for the masses to access media not merely as consumers but also as producers of content. Eventually, communications got enmeshed with human rights and community development, which helped the evolution of community radio (CR). Of course, CR was also seen as the ‘alternative’ to mainstream media.

In the past two years, new controversies have gripped the CR segment. There is a discussion, albeit muted, about its growing politicization.  The enthusiasm among policy makers to appropriate CR led to the recommendation issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) that the stations should air the Prime Minister’s ‘Mann ki Baat’. In April 2015, an informal directive ‘advised’ them to base their content on government schemes such as Swachh Bharat and Jan Dhan[i].

CR experts contend that there is a trend towards ownership with corporate, government and political linkages. There are stations that compete with private FM, and several  are indirectly owned by business houses, including those that have a presence in the other segments of media. Thus, the two major malaises – politicization and corporatization – that plague the mass news media have afflicted CR.

These two trends are the antithesis of what CR should be. It is often presented as the medium that can gratify the communication needs of the peripheral communities and cater to media-dark geographies. Projected as a participatory medium, it is pitched as a platform that can break the structural barriers of corporate or political ownership.


Ownership structures should reflect the community

There are 196 CR stations in India as of June 2016. One of the biggest problems in CR relates to the ownership structure of the stations. The 2006 CR guidelines of the I&B Ministry stated that the stations should “have an ownership and management structure that is reflective of the community it seeks to serve.”

The guidelines elaborated on not just who could own the stations but also those who could not[ii].   It was stated that individuals, political parties and their affiliates (like trade unions and students’ wings), for-profit entities and those that are specifically banned by the government couldn’t own a CR station.

CR is driven by the philosophy of community ownership that benefits grassroots communities, serves their information needs and promotes discussions. It is the community which is envisioned as the decision maker in the running of the station. Experts feel that there are gaping holes in the CR guidelines that enable indirect political, corporate and other forms of ownership and negate community participation.

Experiences from other countries like Nepal that has 260 CR stations (and is regarded as one of the most successful CR experiments across the world), prove that CR can be hijacked by powerful and vested interests, and lead to proxy ownership patterns.

A UNESCO report on Nepal’s CR status spoke about ownership ‘capture’ by the elite and poor representation of community groups. The report observed, “There is a serious concern that in the current phase of radio growth, concurrent with a critical time in the country’s socio-political development, political parties will begin or have already started to exercise more overt influence over FM (and CR) stations.”[iii]

The above-mentioned fears about CR goaded us to conduct a research [1]study on the ownership patterns of CR stations in the country. The aim was three-fold: to find out if the ownership trends violated the principles of CR; if licensees violated the CR guidelines, and whether there were hidden or proxy ownerships.


The principles that guide ownership

There are crucial reasons to study media ownership because biased or corporate owners, including other vested interests, can lead to the manipulation of content to suit a specific agenda, impact media diversity, and affect how well the media serve the public interest.

Interestingly, CR is presented as a force to counter the increased corporate and political control over the commercial media and the ineffectiveness of public service media in countries like India. However, there has been little or no attention given to the actual ownership patterns. It is assumed that, because of the explicit application criteria, we already know who the ‘owners’ are.  Also, it is assumed that ownership doesn’t matter in CR as it is not for profit and hence the rich and powerful are not interested in it.

During the run-up to the 2002 and 2006 guidelines, media activists, advocacy groups, international institutions, and policy makers debated several ownership-related issues. The main thrust was on who was eligible to get a CR licence, and who wasn’t.

Since most of the developed nations such as Australia, South Africa, Ireland and Canada insisted only on one criterion - not-for-profit organizations - this became the basic principle in the Indian context.  At the National Consultation on CR, organized by UNESCO in May 2004, participants wanted the policy to be robust enough to ensure that CR stations do not become a tool for elite, commercial, political and religious interests. More importantly, they did not want CR to become just NGO radio. Hence the draft policy presented to the I&B Ministry in 2006 said that applications for Community Radio licences could be made by the following groups:

  • Community as may be represented by recognized community cooperatives
  • Local Self-Help Groups
  • NGOs and voluntary organizations
  • Well-established educational institutions/organizations
  • Registered local schools/educational institutions.

Though Self-Help Groups and Cooperatives were kept out of India’s 2006 guidelines, CR experts were elated as NGOs and community-based organizations were included. Most people, including the government, felt that there were enough checks and balances within the guidelines to ensure community representation and prevent misuse, proxy ownership, and manipulations by vested interests.


The benefits can attract the wrong people 

However, such assumptions miss the multi-faceted and complex relations with power that community media has in India and elsewhere. The sector enjoys benefits in the name of public good, e.g. zero licence fee, government funds to the tune of Rs 1 billion and minimal spectrum fees even in A+ markets.

Further, because of its presence in the rural areas, it can access bottom of the pyramid markets.  These are some of the reasons why CR catches the attention not just of not-for-profit, community based groups but also political affiliates, corporates etc.   

Discussions with individuals who participated in the policy-making process suggest there were huge gaps between the underlying philosophy of the guidelines and the ground realities vis-à-vis ownership issues. One individual revealed how Sharad Pawar, who heads the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and was the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution between 2004 and 2014, insisted at the Cabinet meeting that State Agriculture Universities (SAUs) and Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) should be eligible for CR licences.

Another person said that although the I&B Ministry set up a screening committee to look at the applications for CR licences, and gave its recommendations, the committee’s  views were rejected by the Ministry regularly. Thus, there was little transparency in the process. In addition, licences were given to those who didn’t deserve them.

 “This reflects a failure on the part of the screening committee, the failure of the mechanism, the failure of possibly the home ministry in doing a thorough analysis of the funding of these (the errant) organizations,” says Arti Jaiman, who runs Gurgaon ki Awaaz, a popular CR station the Delhi NCR region.

Sajan Veniyoor, who was actively involved in the formulation of the CR guidelines, is even more critical: “The policy itself is flawed and the administration of the policy is worse. Then the government plays favouritism. The devil is in the intent. Policy cannot be overarching, but if the governments had the intent to let the communities speak for themselves, they would have done so.”

Based on such views, we believed that there was an urgent need to dig deeper to figure out the real ownership of CR stations. Any steps to bring in a ‘public interest driven policy change’ in the CR sector will need to interrogate the empirical evidence on where CR ownership stands today.


Research methodology

Most studies around media ownership are focused on corporate ownership and thus the research goes into how private businesses and owners hold stakes either directly or indirectly in the media companies, the relationships with their subsidiaries and so on.

CR is structured differently from commercial media. Thus, existing methodologies were of little use for the purposes of this study. Further, the ‘data’ that we are eliciting was primarily in the form of formal text that is stored in a database compiled via application forms and processed by bureaucrats.  The ownership is not generally revealed to the communities. 

Further, this formal data is qualitative data in our case – names of board members, details of their other interests, linkages to political families and so on.  We chose a qualitative method where relevant information was collected from the public domain – websites on CR stations, I&B Ministry’s compendium, websites managed by the various owners, published articles and literature (books and papers), policy drafts and consultation papers, and TRAI’s recommendations on CR. Interviews were conducted with individuals who either held talks with the I&B Ministry or represented the stakeholders.

In India, the licences for CR are awarded to primarily three kinds of institutions:  non-profit institutions, educational and academic institutions, and agricultural institutions (KVKs and SAUs). Based on our field experience, we were aware of criticism that giving licences to public institutions like a KVK is not exactly CR (in the sense that there is little or no community ownership in such a situation).

However, the problem is transparent and known to us. Thus, the focus for us is to study private institutions and investigate if the central or state governments own CR stations through a non-KVK, non-public institution route.

In order to do this, we identified the following points:

  • Name and other details of Board of Trustees/Governing Council of Society;
  • Other interests of Board Members/Other positions held by Board Members;
  • Sources of funding;
  • Details of parent organization (if any);
  • Board Members of parent organization (if different from CR board members);
  • Names and other details of Advisory Board/Governing Council of Radio;
  • Other media interests by institution;
  • Other work done by licence holder;
  • Other details (name, address, date of incorporation, broadcasting hours, frequency, language etc.).


Sampling methodology

Since there were 184 CR stations (when we began the study in 2015) we adopted a stratified purposeful sampling strategy. This was useful to illustrate characteristics of sub-groups and facilitate comparisons (Patton, 1990).  However, since we adopted purposeful sampling, it is not possible to make generalizations about the sector. However, our sample seeks to include proportionate representation of the three categories of ownerships to the extent possible.

We undertook a sample size that is 10% of the population, i.e. 18 CR stations out of 184. To arrive at the sample, we considered two variables: licence-type and geographical location.  Applying the licence-type category divided the sample into NGOs (36% of the 184 CR stations), educational Institutions (57%) and agricultural institutions (7%).

If we were to take a sample of 18 , then the logic of pure stratified sampling would dictate that we chose the 18 CR stations in the same proportion, which moved our sample in favor of the educational institutions, followed by a couple of NGOs and left us with one agricultural institution.

However, we wanted to avoid this because there were many licences awarded to public and state-owned educational institutions, and there was no need to investigate their ownership. The need was to investigate non-state entities and direct ownership by non-academic central/state ministries/departments/PSUs that make claims about representing the ‘community’. Stratified purposeful sampling enabled us to ensure that a majority of our sample comprises NGOs, private educational institutions, private agricultural institutions, and state-owned non-academic entities.

In terms of the location category, we wanted to choose equally between the North, South, East and West regions. Due to various reasons, CR is absent from North East and Central India, border areas, and coastal areas. CR stations abound in states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Our sample was chosen from these states.


Table 1: Sample of CR Stations for the study

S. No

Name of the CR station


License Category


GMR Radio

Srikakulum, AP



Radio Vishnu

Bhimavaram, AP



Uttam Radio

Patna, Bihar



Mind Tree CR

Ambala, Punjab



Ramana Dwani

Bangalore, Karnataka



Sharada Krishi Vahini

Baramati, Maharashtra

Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK)


Vasundhara Krishi Vahini

Baramati, Maharashtra



Radio Vishwas

Nashik, Maharashtra



Radio Madhuban

Abu Road, Rajasthan



Ilanthalir CR

Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu



Kalapakkam CR

Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu



Radio Amity

Noida, UP



Himgiri ki Awaaz

Dehradun, Uttrakhand



SVFM CRS Tirupati

Tirupati, AP




Ahmadabad, Gujarat



Radio Manipal

Manipal, Karnataka



Vanya Radio Bhabra

Bhabra, MP



Radio Shardha

Jammu, J&K



What the research revealed

The initial conclusions of the research found politicization, corporatization, and religiosity:  

Politicization: Direct and  indirect owners included politicians, NGOs with political linkages, security agencies, schools run by state-owned entities or government departments, entities funded by the state, and state ministries.

Corporatization: Licences were given to entities which were the Corporate Social Responsibility arms of business houses, academic institutions owned and managed by corporates, NGOs run by business families, and trusts that are run by entrepreneurs in the financial services sector.

Religiosity: Licences went to religious groups, many of which weren’t exactly community-based. The footprints of such organizations were at the national or global levels when CR stations are meant to meet the needs of the community.  

Based on these findings, one can easily establish that there were trends of indirect politicization and corporatization, direct ownership by several religious groups, and flouting of both the letter and spirit of the CR guidelines. Over the next three pieces in the five-part series, we shall expand and explore these trends, and their implications. The fifth and final part will spell out recommendations which can hopefully help put a check on manipulations in the ownership patterns of CR stations.


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 II



[i] Sukanya, S. (2015, May 3). Radio rues govt diktats. The Telegraph. Retrieved May 26, 206, from

[ii] Ground Realities: Community Radio in India. (2011). Retrieved October 26, 2016, from

[iii]  Pringle, I., & Subba, B. (2007). Ten Years On: The State of Community Radio in Nepal.

Retrieved October 26, 2016, from Ten Years On: The State of Community Radio in Nepal




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