Let them make waves

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on December 03, 2014 Published on December 03, 2014

The government should let private radio stations produce news

In an age when people are deluged by unrestricted opinion and opinionated news from myriad quarters, including the social media, it makes no sense for the government to disallow private FM radio stations from airing news and current affairs. As of now, these stations are only allowed to relay AIR’s news bulletins and related content.

Around 90 cities in India have FM radio stations and there are umpteen community radio organisations, which have the wherewithal to produce and air quality news and current affairs programme. But the government still believes that in the absence of a regulatory body, allowing these stations to produce their own news programmes can lead to misuse of this right. This argument is anachronistic and bizarre to say the least.

India is one of the few countries where radio news remains a government monopoly. It’s a blot on democracy. None of the 14,000-plus radio stations in the US, or 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 cultural affairs, points out a public interest litigation filed by the non-profit organisation, CommonCause, in the Supreme Court.

The government’s tight grip over radio dates back to the days of the Raj. The Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 and the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1933 offer the State exclusive right over telegraph and gives it the power to grant licences as and when it feels like. Section 3 of the Indian Wireless and Telegraphy Act bans the possession of “wireless telegraphy apparatus” without licence. This argument falls flat on its face in the era of WhatsApp and Facebook.

Also, FM stations and community radio reach a great number of people. They should air plural views, rather than government-sponsored content. Hence, before the next phase of radio auction, which has been delayed without valid reason, the government should free up news and current affairs broadcast.

Jinoy Jose P, Assistant Editor

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Published on December 03, 2014
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