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SC seeks govt’s reply on allowing pvt radio to broadcast news

Private FM radio channels

New Delhi : The Supreme Court today sought the response of the Centre on a plea seeking its direction for allowing private FM radio stations, including community radios, to broadcast news like television channels.

A bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to file its reply within four weeks.

The bench was hearing a PIL, filed by NGO Common Cause in 2013, seeking a direction to the Centre that private radio stations and community radios be also allowed to broadcast news as they are more accessible for the masses, particularly the poor.

The apex court had earlier issued notice to the Centre on the PIL way back on October 17, 2013.

The plea said unlike television channels, none of the 245 private FM channels and 145 community radio stations in the country are allowed to broadcast their own news and current affairs programmes, which was the monopoly of government broadcaster Prasar Bharati.

“India is perhaps the lone democracy where dissemination of news and current affairs programmes on radio remains a monopoly of the government-owned broadcaster, which owns and operates All India Radio/Akashvaani,” the NGO has said.

Separate guidelines for community and FM radio were “discriminatory” as they imposed “unreasonable restrictions” on the broadcast of news and current affairs programmes by them, especially when TV channels and the print media were not subject to such prohibitions, it said.

The petition also submitted that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which took over the regulatory duties for broadcasting in January 2004, has recommended to the government that rules restricting private and community radio channels from broadcasting news and current affairs programmes be removed.

The NGO has challenged the validity of the policy guidelines and permission agreements framed by the Centre, saying that while these norms allow broadcast of information, including news on sports, traffic or weather, what is not allowed is the broadcast of political news.

The petition said, “the guidelines allow ‘information’ to be broadcast, including news on sports, traffic, weather, cultural events, education and employment, and public announcements made by local authorities on amenities like water and power supply.

“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’.”

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