| 23 Sep 2023
Why can private FM channels not have their own news bulletins, Supreme Court asks Govt.

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has asked the government to explain the continuing prohibition on FM radio stations and community radios from airing their own news and current affairs on a par with private TV channels and the print media.

The observation by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud came on a public interest litigation filed in 2013 by Common Cause, and the Court asked why the government wanted to control news on radio, which covers almost the entire population including the rural masses.

The court directed the government to explain in four weeks the series of orders passed between 2008 and 2013 preventing private radio from airing their own news and current affairs broadcasts.

The government’s prohibition, Common Cause argued, was in clear violation of the Supreme Court’s landmark verdict in 1995 in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting vs Cricket Association of Bengal when the court had held that “airwaves are public property to be used to promote public good and expressing a plurality of views, opinions and ideas”. That judgment had led to the passing of the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995.

Common Cause counsel Prashant Bhushan and Kamini Jaiswal said that policy Guidelines and of the Grant of Permission Agreements framed by the government which prohibit private FM radio stations and community radio stations from broadcasting their own news and current affairs programmes are clearly violative of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.

They said the right to freedom of speech and expression also includes the right to information, which encompasses diverse interpretations of news and current affairs. The NGO argued that no other democratic country had similar curbs.

On 28 November 2008, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had recommended that for private FM radio broadcasting Phase III, FM broadcasters “may only be permitted to broadcast news, taking content from AIR, Doordarshan, authorised TV news channels, United News of India, Press Trust of India and any other authorised news agency without any substantive change in the content”.

But on 25 July 2011, FM Radio under Phase III policy guidelines were permitted to broadcast of FM radio news bulletins of AIR without any addition or modification. This concession was also extended to community radio stations in February 2013

(Earlier, the Government has said in Parliament that private FM channels were not being permitted to air their own news as there was no adequate monitoring system for FM Radio as there is for private TV channels.)