The Supreme Court, hearing a PIL by an NGO, Thursday said it will examine the rules that bar private FM radio channels and community radios from broadcasting news and current affairs.
It also issued notice on the issue to the central government, returnable in two weeks.
As a bench of Chief Justice P.Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi heard the plea when counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Common Cause, raised the question of how can the government restrict private FM radio channels from broadcasting news, as “community radio channels are easily accessible”.
As court issued notice, Chief Justice Sathasivam observed: “Radio is accessible to all. So we will examine this.”
Bhushan said that not everyone can afford to open a private TV channel, but people can open community radio stations and FM channels.
In its PIL, Common Cause contended that the government’s policy guidelines and grant of permission agreements under which the private FM and community radio stations are prohibited from broadcasting their own news and current affairs programmes on the same footing as television and print media, was illegal and violative of Article 19 (1) (a) (right to free speech and expression) of the Constitution.
The PIL said the successive government policy guidelines on the expansion of FM radio broadcasting services through private agencies have placed undue restraints on the broadcast of news and current affairs related content.
The restrictions, specified in the Policy Guidelines of FM Radio Services (Phase II & Phase III), say that no news and current affairs programmes are permitted under the Phase-II guidelines, but Phase III guidelines allow FM radios to disseminate news bulletins of All India Radio without any addition or modification.
Noting that the guidelines allowed broadcast of news on sports, traffic, weather, cultural events, education and employment, and public announcements made by local authorities on amenities like water and power supply, the PIL said: “Effectively, there is a ban on political news more than anything else, since many other kinds of news are allowed under the banner of ‘information’.”
Drawing a comparison with the freedom that FM radio channels and Community radios get in other countries, the PIL said: “None of the US’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 is barred from airing news and related content.”
“In fact, many stations are solely news channels, including specialized ones for community radio,” the PIL said.