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The Supreme Court has asked the government to consider extending the content of news and current affairs for community and F.

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PIL ON FM RADIO: GOVT REPLY SOUGHT

The Supreme Court has asked the government to consider extending the content of news and current affairs for community and F.M. radio stations, at least to include such news and current affairs, as were already in public domain and broadcasted by the licensed operators in the print and electronic media.

To this, the counsel for UOI sought a short adjournment, so as to obtain instructions in the matter. Allowing this prayer, the Court has granted six weeks’ time for obtaining such instructions and directed the matter to be listed thereafter. This matter is posted for hearing on April 5, 2017.

Common Cause in 2013 had filed a petition seeking the quashing of the provisions of the Policy Guidelines and of the Grant of Permission Agreements framed by the Government which prohibited private FM Radio and Community Radio stations from broadcasting their own news and current affairs programmes on the same footing as television and print media.

Separate Policy Guidelines have been issued by the Government for Community Radio and FM radio, imposing unreasonable restrictions on the broadcast of news and current affairs programmes by them. Common Cause had contended that these were violative of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution. It was submitted that the right to freedom of speech and expression also includes the right to information, which encompasses diverse interpretations of news and current affairs.  .

Also, the aforesaid policy guidelineswere in stark contrast to the Apex Court's landmark directive of 1995 in Ministry of Information & Broadcasting Vs Cricket Association of Bengal, (1995) 2 SCC 161, wherein it was held that airwaves were public property to be used to promote public good and expressing a plurality of views, opinions and ideas. As per the ruling, the ‘freedom of speech and expression’ guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution includes the right to acquire and disseminate information. Further, the right to disseminate includes the right to communicate through any media: print, electronic or audio-visual.

Hence, it was argued that the policy guidelines were arbitrary and discriminatory as there was no such restriction for TV channels and print media and hence, violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. It was further submitted that for the bulk of the citizens of this country, radio was virtually the only electronic gadget they could afford. There was no medium other than radio that could offer relevant, local information, either. Radio has a far broader reach than television.

The writ further held that India was perhaps the only democratic country in the world where the dissemination of news and current affairs programmes on the radio remained a monopoly of the government-owned broadcaster. No other democratic country had similar curbs. None of the USA's 14,000-plus radio stations, the 2,000-odd stations in Spain or the 1,000-plus stations each in Italy, France, Greece and Australia were barred from airing news and cultural affairs. In fact, many stations were solely news channels, including specialised ones for community radio. Even countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, and perhaps even Bangladesh, did not have any restriction on broadcastof news and current affairs programme by private FM channels. In India, the Prasar Bharti Corporation owns and operates the All India Radio/Akashvaani, which enjoys the monopoly of broadcast of news and current affairs programmes.

Finally, it was argued that Community radio should not be restricted to broadcasting government advertisements and information about government schemes. It was important for these radio stations to engage with local governments and promote transparency and accountability.

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