You could soon hear news bulletins on your favourite FM radio channel, along with information about local weather, traffic, examination results, job opportunities and tomorrow's power cut schedule.

This decision to allow news and information broadcasts on private FM was approved by the Union Cabinet on Thursday, as part of the Phase III policy guidelines which also extend FM radio services to 227 new cities. With 839 new FM radio channels expected to spring up under this phase, all cities with a population of one lakh or more will now have their own private FM channel.

In what could be a gradual opening up for private FM channels to news broadcasting, the government has decided to allow radio broadcasters to carry unedited news bulletins from All India Radio.

Private channels will still be forbidden from airing their own news bulletins, but Information and Broadcasting Minister hinted that this could change in the future. “Gradually, we are allowing news in the private radio stations and let's see how it goes forward,” she told reporters after the Cabinet meeting, according to PTI.

Asked why channels are not allowed to use news from the agencies considering that AIR itself gets its news from this source, she said: “I don't rule it out. When greater liberalisation takes place in time to come, it may be considered. It depends on what various ministries say and how the system functions.”

Local information – including traffic, weather, sports and cultural events, examinations, admissions and career counselling, as well as public announcements by the local administration – will be treated as non-news, and therefore free to air on private channels.

The government will begin e-auctions for licenses for the new channels in batches. The Phase III auctions are expected to fetch revenues to the tune of Rs. 1, 733 crore.

The Cabinet also decided to increase the foreign investment limit in private FM radio firms to 26 per cent from the current rate of 20 per cent.

Several incentives have been provided to encourage bidding for licences in Jammu and Kasmir, North Eastern states and the island territories.