New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday sought the central government’s response on a plea seeking direction for allowing private FM radio stations, including community radio to broadcast news.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud asked the information & broadcasting (I&B) ministry to file its reply within four weeks.
The bench was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the NGO Common Cause in 2013, seeking directions from the Centre on the possibility of allowing private radio stations and community radios to broadcast news, arguing that radio is a more accessible medium for the masses, particularly the poor. The apex court had also issued a notice to the Centre on the PIL back in October 2013.
At present, the government has kept news out of the purview of FM channels, which are only allowed to carry All India Radio news bulletins in exactly the same format.
Industry executives welcomed the SC’s move and said that allowing private FM radio firms to broadcast news will be a ‘game-changer’ for the industry.
“We have been saying forever that radio is being needlessly singled out on news. Radio companies are responsible media companies. We go through enormous security checks and give massive entry fees to the government. There is absolutely no reason to deny us the right to do news," said Prashant Panday, chief executive at Entertainment Network India Ltd (ENIL), which operates the FM radio service Radio Mirchi. ENIL is the radio broadcasting unit of Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd.
Nisha Narayanan, chief operating officer at Sun group-owned 93.5 Red FM agreed, saying news will change the entire dynamic of the radio industry. “Radio is a very powerful medium and because of the restrictions on news, it is not looked upon as a very serious medium."
The NGO’s petition had 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.
Harshad Jain, chief executive officer, radio and entertainment at HT Media, said that it will be a welcome move if news is allowed on private radio. HT Media Ltd runs Fever 104 FM and Radio Nasha.
HT Media, the publisher of Mint, competes with other radio firms in several markets.