Friday, 10 February 2017

Ban on private FM and Community radio stations

Ban on private FM and Community radio stations

Private FM news may be security threat: Government

NEW DELHI: In the internet age when information flows more freely than ever before, the Centre justified the ban on private FM and community radio stations broadcasting news and current affairs, saying this could endanger "national security and public order".
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the government said it could not permit news content on FM as it might be misused by anti-national elements in the country and outside to propagate their agenda and radical views, posing a grave danger to the country.
It filed the response in compliance of the apex court's order which had sought explanation on why news broadcast should not be allowed on private radio stations.
The government said there is no mechanism in place to monitor content of live broadcast of all radio stations and law and order problems may arise if they transmit sensitive news.

Referring to community radio stations, it said they were run by NGOs and could be used as platforms to manipulate the minds of local people.
"Broadcasting of news by these stations/channel may pose a possible security risk as there is no mechanism to monitor the contents of news bulletin of every such station. As these stations and channels are run mainly by NGO or other small organisation and private operators, several antinational or radical elements within the country can misuse it for propagating their own agenda," it said.

The government added that some radio stations also air programmes involving chats with NRIs and these may be exploited too.
source: TOI;  Updated: Feb 10, 2017


One of the key foci of discussion over the last decade has been the ban on news transmission over private FM, including commercial FM broadcasters and community radio stations. There are now over 350 commercial stations across the country (with 800 odd more coming up in the next few years under FM Phase III licensing); and over 200 community radio stations across the country. None of them is allowed to broadcast news, and - till a recent order issued by the Ministry for Information & Broadcasting - had to pretend that the local information that they were sharing (their essential purpose) was not news. (The recent order specifies what is news and what is not news, which - to the best of my knowledge - was best left to the consumer, and not to the government to decide. Apparently, covering an international sporting event over a local radio station is news, but covering the local kabaddi match is not. Ours not to reason why.)

Such a ban is unprecedented in any democratic society; and in many ways, unique to India: The only examples that can be counted globally are in clearly totalitarian states. India's stance has been perplexing to not only citizens of this country, but also activists globally, who clearly would like India to set a precedent of openness in this respect. With over 20 years of commercial broadcasting and a decade and half of community broadcasting ver radio gone, this stance only continues to become more perplexing as time goes by - since there seems to be utterly no evidence that it has achieved any purpose. This is especially true in an environment where we have nearly 300 satellite TV channels specializing in news; and the internet allows many people to access anything they want anyway. (Discussions on internet access, Digital India, the so-called mobile success story and restrictions on internet access on another day...)

A few years ago (2012), the Delhi based Common Cause, represented by Prashant Bhushan, filed a PIL in the Supreme Court a couple of years ago, challenging this ban on news over private FM and community radio. The PIL, which presents its case in a fairly unambiguus and clearheaded manner, is attached.

Four weeks ago, the Supreme Court requested the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to provide its views on why news should not be allowed on private FM. In its wisdom, the Ministry responded yesterday, as reported in today's Times of India:


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