Supreme Court has questioned the Center’s refusal to allow private FM stations and community radio service operators to air news and current affairs program....

A bench headed by chief justice J S Khehar yesterday asked the government to consider permitting them to broadcast news and current affairs program based on the information already available in public domain. 

The bench however agreed to the extent that it may not be feasible to give a free hand to private radio stations to broadcast their own news as it might create “havoc” in sensitive areas like the north-east and J and K they should be permitted to take the contents of newspapers and TV channels to broadcast them.

Appearing for the petitioner NGO Common Cause, senior lawyer Jayant Bhushan said “government could not control flow of information and its decision was unconstitutional and violative of right to freedom of speech and expression”. Countering the center’s argument that they cannot monitor all the FM stations and community radio services as most are owned by NGOs, Bhushan asked then in the first place how and why was the Center granting licenses to them ?

“There is no pre-censorship of news in TV and the government is allowed to cancel licence in case of any violation. The same policy should be made for radio also. Government cannot have monopoly over radio news,” Bhushan said.

Earlier in an affidavit filed on the direction by the Supreme Court in a PIL on the issue, the Center has said it was not possible to grant FM stations and community radio service operators permission to air news as several anti- national radical elements within the country and also abroad can misuse it for propagating their own agenda. The PIL argues radio is a more accessible medium for the masses, particularly the poor.

“MHA is of the view that Community Radio Service operators and Private FM operators may not be allowed to broadcast news and current affairs programs. Broadcast of news by these stations/channel may pose a possible security risk as there is no mechanism to monitor the contents of the news bulletins of very such station”, an MHA affidavit filed in the court said.

“All these stations, channels are run mainly by NGO/other small organizations and private operators, several anti national radical elements within the country can misuse it for propagating their own agenda. Community radio stations also air programs involving chats with NRIs and local population settled abroad. These stations may be exploited by foreign / radical organizations to broadcast radical views of some of these NRIs, as due to paucity of funds, the radio stations would not be able to afford authentic news sources”, it said.

Bhushan challenged the validity of the policy guidelines and grant of permission agreements framed by the Center, saying that while these norms allow broadcasting of information, including news on sports, traffic, weather, etc. What is not allowed is broadcast of political news and current affairs.

India is perhaps the lone democracy where the dissemination of news and current affairs programs on radio remains a monopoly of the Government-owned broadcaster, the PIL added. - Livelaw