TNN | Oct 18, 2013,

SC seeks Centre's response on private radio channels airing news
Even neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal have edged past India in allowing private radio stations to air news.
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday sought the Centre’s response to a PIL which challenged the policy of prohibiting private FM and community radio stations from broadcasting their own news and current affairs programmes like the state-owned All India Radio (AIR). A bench of CJI P Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi issued a notice to the I&B ministry on a petition filed by NGO Common Cause. AdvocatePrashant Bhushan argued that it was an unreasonable and discriminatory restriction imposed on private radio stations when the private TV channels could freely telecast their own news like the government-runDoordarshan.

What appeared to have struck the bench was that radio was the “commoners’ information box”. It said: “Radio is accessible to every one.” And Bhushan added: “To set up a TV channel it requires investment to the tune of Rs 100 crores. But community radio could be established with meagre investments for the benefit of a particular locality.” The NGO challenged the legality of Para 5(vi) of the Policy Guidelines for Setting up Community Radio in India, 2006, which provided, among other things, “The permission holder shall not broadcast any programme, which relate to news and current affairs and are otherwise political in nature.”

“Similarly, successive government policy guidelines on the expansion ofFM radio broadcasting service through private agencies have placed undue restraint on broadcast of news and current affairs related content,” Bhushan said, accusing the government of perpetrating a monopoly on radio news.

“India is perhaps the lone democracy where the dissemination of news and current affairs on radio remains a monopoly of the government-owned broadcaster, Prasaar Bharati Corporation, which owns and operates the All India Radio/Akashvani,” he said. “None of the US’s 14,000-plus radio stations, the 200-odd stations in Spain or the 1,000-plus stations each in Italy, France, Greece and Australia is barred from airing news and related content. In fact, many radio stations are exclusive news broadcasters,” the NGO’s petition said. It pointed out that even neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal have edged past India in allowing private radio stations to air news.

“Even in Pakistan, which has recently issued FM radio licenses to 60-odd private players, government has said there will eventually be no control … of content over private TV or radio stations,” the petitioner said. “It is high time India, which is held out as the exemplar of a vibrant, plural democracy, gave meaning to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression in the matter of dissemination of diverse interpretations of happenings around us on the most popular medium of mass communication,” the NGO said.

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