Appearing for the petitioner, advocate Prashant Bhushan told a bench of Justice T S Thakur and Justice D Y Chandrachud that the government on one hand permitted private television channels to broadcast news but on the other, restrained FM radio and community radio services from airing news and current affairs programmes.
The bench told senior advocate Yashank P Adhyaru, who appeared for the Union government, that no response was filed in this case since 2014. "You must file response within four weeks positively. We must conclude this issue," it said.
The NGO accused the government of retaining sole control over dissemination of news though radio broadcasting was thrown open to the private sector in 1999. "There have been three rounds of licensing for FM channels so far. At the last count, there were 245 private FM channels and 145 community radio stations in the country. But none of them is allowed to broadcast its own news and current affairs programmes," the petitioner said.
It said India was perhaps the only democracy where dissemination of news and current affairs programmes on radio remained a monopoly of the government-owned broadcaster, Prasar Bharati Corporation, which owns and operates All India Radio/Akashvaani. "None of the USA's 4,000-plus radio stations, 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 related content," the NGO said. It also gave details about radio regulations in neighbouring countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Sri Lanka, it said, had around 20 radio stations. In Nepal, Radio Sagarmatha, run by a body of environmental journalists, broadcast 10 news and sports bulletins, two news magazines, current affairs, morning show, editorials and 75 minutes of BBC Nepali service every day, besides regular programmes on good governance, gender issues, environment and other public matters, the NGO added.
The petitioner said, "The government's policy guidelines prohibiting private FM radio stations and community radio stations from broadcasting their own news and current affairs programmes are clearly violative of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution."
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