No news on FM radio is bad news

21 Oct,2013

By Himanshi Dhawan


The Supreme Court’s notice to the Centre seeking an explanation for omission of news and current affairs on private radio channels has brought the spotlight on the government’s skewed policy.


The last decade has seen a proliferation of newspapers , TV channels and news websites – all of whom are free to air news, but private radio channels are not.


The proposed FM radio phase III policy had the opportunity to correct this anomaly, but the government failed to seize the chance – many industry leaders feel deliberately. They said the current policy was in contravention of the SC’s “airwaves” judging in 1995 when the court stressed that “diversity of opinions, views, ideas and ideologies is essential to enable the citizens to arrive at informed judgment on all issues touching them. This cannot be provided by a medium controlled by a monopoly -whether the monopoly is of the State or any other individual , group or organization.”


However, radio remains the only medium where government has a complete monopoly over news.


The Association for Radio Operators in India (AROI) president Anuradha Prasad said it would be a “welcome” step if news on radio was allowed to be broadcast. “If news organizations can generate news for television and print, then why not for radio as well,” she asked.


Nisha Narayanan

Red FM CEO Nisha Narayanan said the current policy was “unconstitutional”. Describing government concerns about law and order and national security as “spurious”, Narayanan said, “These are spurious concerns. We have over 150 news channels on cable TV, many of which are foreign channels over which we have no control. There are over 65,000 registered news journals in India. We have no idea how many news websites are there on the internet , or who runs them. To this day, I have not heard anyone suggest that we shut them all down as ‘unchecked’ news or that they might lead to a law and order problem. Far from banning news on any of these media, no one in his right mind even suggests pre-censorship of news on TV or newspapers or the internet.”


Ms Narayanan added, “Reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) and the general broadcast code apply to all electronic media, including radio. The sensible method of ensuring compliance with the broadcast code is self-regulation and suitable penalties for violations. Prohibition of news on radio is a ridiculous overreach on the government’s part.”


Prashant Panday

Radio Mirchi’s Prashant Panday said, “How can private FM broadcasters be denied the right to air news? At one time, we heard the government had security concerns , because they couldn’t monitor us. But today, the technology is readily available . Then we heard that since FM radio reached one and all, even those who could not afford a TV set or read a newspaper, the government was concerned about our news content. But this is specious reasoning as we are bound by programming guidelines, and would be governed by a code similar to the one followed by TV channels,” he said.


Tarun Katial

Reliance Broadcast Network CEO Tarun Katial said, “Giving private radio the freedom to air news and current affairs can bring about a sea change in the way India consumes the medium, and position radio as a means for information dissemination , beyond pure entertainment . Inclusion of news will realize information requirements of a large section of the population, while fuelling growth of the sector,” he said.


The PIL filed by NGO Common Cause pointed out that there was no such ban in countries like the US, Spain, Sri Lanka and Pakistan despite a large number of radio stations in these countries.


Source:The Economic Times

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