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Supreme Court questions decision that prevents private FM radio stations in India to air news

Supreme Court questions decision that prevents private FM radio stations in India to air news
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The Supreme Court asked the Centre on Tuesday why it was shying away from allowing community radio and private FM radio stations from broadcasting news and asked the government to consider permitting them to air news and current affairs programme on the basis of information available in public domain.

A bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar, Justice N V Ramana and Justice D Y Chandrachud said it might not be feasible to give a free hand to private radio stations to broadcast their own news as it might create “havoc” in sensitive areas like the north-east and Jammu and Kashmir but they should be permitted to take the contents of newspapers and TV channels to broadcast them.

At present, 281 private FM channels are operational in 84 cities and the government told the court that it has decided to e-auction 839 more channels in 294 cities.

The Centre has so far granted permission for 519 community radio stations, out of which 201 are operational.

Justifying its decision to ban private FM and community radio stations from broadcasting news and current affairs programmes, the government told the bench that granting permission could endanger “national security and public order”. “Broadcasting of news by these stations/channels 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/channels are run mainly by NGOs/other small organisations and private operators, several anti-national/radical elements within the country can misuse it for propagating their agenda,” senior advocate Ashok Panda, appearing for the Centre, told the bench.

He said the government had recently framed guidelines allowing community radio stations to broadcast news sourced exclusively from All India Radio.

Pleading for the court’s direction to allow news on radio, senior advocate Jayant Bhushan, appearing for NGO ‘Common Cause’, contended that the government could not control flow of information and its decision was unconstitutional and violative of right to freedom of speech and expression.

He asked how the Centre could grant licences to radio stations if it was not able to monitor them.

“There is no pre-censorship of news in TV and the government is allowed to cancel licence in case of any violation. The same policy should be made for radio also. Government cannot have monopoly over radio news,” Bhushan said.

The court also questioned the government on why the ban on airing news should be forced on private radio stations and why they could not air contents of newspapers and TV channels as they were already being regulated by the Centre.

SOURCE: Times of India

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