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India 29 March 2006

Ban on "DIY radio" in Bihar state illustrates unfairness of broadcast law

Reporters Without Borders expressed dismay at the closure of Radio Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1 under the Indian Telegraphs Act after the station, which its founder said he launched for less than a dollar, garnered international plaudits.

The radio, in Mansoorpur in Bihar state in the north-east, was set up without a licence by 22-year-old Raghav Mahto, an electronic equipment repairman. It broadcast local news, information and music.

"It is one thing to apply the law, but to forcibly close down a community-type radio is a sign of intransigence by the authorities over the emergence of pluralism on the airwaves," the press freedom organisation said.

"We believed the recent licensing of FM stations was an encouraging sign, but the closure of Radio Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1 underlines the fact that India was the last country in south Asia to accept independent news broadcasts on FM."

"We urge the Bihar state government to grant this radio a temporary licence and the government in New Delhi to bring in an amendment on community radios."

The Bihar authorities shut down the radio on 26 March 2006, after the courts ruled that the station was violating the Indian Telegraphs Act. Police lodged a complaint against the founder and sole presenter, Raghav Mahto, and information ministry representatives seized his equipment.

The action against Radio Raghav FM Mansoorpur 1 started in February after a series of articles appeared in the Indian and international press about the popular success of the FM station. On 24 February 2006, the BBC World Service posted a report on its website headlined "The amazing DIY village FM radio station". Raghav Mahto told a reporter from the British radio that he had set up the station with less than a dollar.

Founded in 2003, the station broadcasts music, educational programmes and local news over a range of about 20 kms around the village. Mahto told the press that he did not know that he was legally obliged to get a licence.

The young artisan, who is seen as a hero in Mansoorpur, told a Times of India journalist: "I don’t have the money for the licence fee. I don’t even have the money for medical treatment of my father, who is suffering from cancer."

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