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Here’s why AIR bid to check Pakistan’s radio propaganda in Punjab is doomed to fail

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Certain key parameters have been compromised to rush its inauguration ahead of 2019, when it is likely to be projected as an achievement of the Modi govt.

New Delhi: It was supposed to be India’s answer to Pakistani propaganda making its way to Punjab aboard FM airwaves. But the All India Radio (AIR) transmitter inaugurated Monday near the international border in Amritsar will fail its stated objectives, sources said.

The transmitter will flop, the sources added, because certain crucial parameters have been compromised to rush its inauguration ahead of the general elections, where it is likely to be projected as an achievement of the Narendra Modi government.

For one, its height is too low for the content to reach deep into Pakistan Punjab, for which it is partly meant. Also, plans of a dedicated service for the region were never taken forward, an official added, which will leave listeners on the Indian side with content they may not appreciate or even understand.

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This, the sources said, compromised the second stated objective of the transmitter — relaying entertainment and news-based programmes for the local population.

The plan

Union minister Vijay Sampla, the MP for Hoshiarpur in Punjab, inaugurated the 20-kW transmitter at 11 am. No one from the state Congress government was invited for the launch.

Built at a cost of Rs 5.40 crore, the transmitter will carry programmes for 18 hours everyday from 6 am to 12 midnight, a statement from AIR said.

“This transmitter, due to its strategic location, would provide opportunities for… countering of any misleading anti-India propaganda and put India’s point of view in the correct perspective,” the statement added. 
It is learnt that both AIR and the ministry of home affairs have known for some time about six Pakistani radio channels that enjoy huge popularity in Amritsar and the border villages: Radio Awaz, FM 100, Mast FM, FM Chaupal, Summer FM, and FM 101 of Radio Pakistan.
Their appeal was attributed not only to the loud and clear signals, but also the content on offer — Punjabi music and programmes that beamed camouflaged propaganda into these areas. However, there was little action on the ground to check this, the sources told ThePrint.
AIR channels, meanwhile, have little reach inside Pakistan. At present, the state-owned broadcaster beams programmes in Punjabi from its Jalandhar station through short- and medium-wave transmitters. These transmitters are now worn out, resulting in intermittent signals across the border.
The initial plan for the new border transmitter was to mount it at a height of 200 metres, on a 270-metre television transmitter set up by Doordarshan. This would have ensured that the content broadcast reached at least 150 km into Pakistan, including Lahore, Sialkot, and Gujranwala, the heart of the cross-border Punjab.
The TV transmitter, however, could never be inaugurated as it got caught up in litigation because the agency that erected it left a tilt in it.
And, in its bid to rush the inauguration, AIR got a 100-metre-long mast for the low-power FM transmitter. As a result, the signals will only reach up to 20-30 kilometres inside Pakistan, because the transmitter is located nearly 10 kilometres away from the international border.

No local connect

Even locally, the content broadcast is unlikely to find a fan base with the plan for a dedicated service not seeing the light of day.

As things stand, the transmitter will broadcast programmes, including songs and news commentary, from AIR’s Urdu service and AIR Jalandhar’s FM Rainbow.

Excerpts from another programme broadcast on AIR Jalandhar, Des Punjab, will also be relayed.

A top Prasar Bharati official told ThePrint, however, that the content will invariably miss the target since there are no Urdu speakers in the region and people mostly communicate in Punjabi.

“Forget Urdu, the dialect of Punjabi in Jalandhar is very different from that in Amritsar, so programmes broadcast from AIR Jalandhar will find not find any takers among the target audience,” the official added.

Officials also said local residents had long sought a local radio station, and a live broadcast of the Gurbani from the Golden Temple in the morning and evening. “None of these local demands will be met,” a source said.

Highly placed sources said the programmes relayed through this transmitter will not only face competition from Pakistan’s radio channels, but also from the many private local FM channels that enjoy a fair level of popularity in the area.

At present, there is another 20-kW FM transmitter installed in the border district of Fazilka. However, it again misses the target as it carries AIR Urdu content for Punjabi-speaking listeners.

The transmitter inaugurated Monday marks AIR’s fourth attempt to commission the project. Previous attempts were aborted on some pretext or the other.

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  1. Amritsar is a very important city, it is the brain of East Punjab just like Lahore is the brain city of Pakistan. It has its own rich culture quite similar to that of Lahore. In fact at the time of independence in 1947, it was delinked from Lahore Division of Pakistan and added to East (Indian) Punjab. It deserves its own studio complex like an LRS station. In fact the Punjabi (external) Service of All India Radio should originate from Amritsar. It is the most happening city in Punjab. No day passes, when a VVIP does not visit this city. It should relay the originations from the Golden Temple too. It deserves a 400 meter high permanent concrete relay tower, instead of the present ugly 300 meter high steel space frame. Considering its importance, it is an incomplete radio station.

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