News ban on community radio curtails rights: Activists
Representatives of a non-governmental organisation which filed a public interest litigation (PIL) this year seeking revocation of the ban on news on community radio stations said Saturday that the rule curtailed people’s rights. Such a ban on news dissemination through community radio amounted to a restriction on the right of freedom of speech and expression, representatives of the NGO said. “The ban on broadcasting news on private radio and community radio is not part of the constitution, it is just a decision taken by the executive. Hence such a blanket ban impunges the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the constitution,” Kamal Kant Jaswal, director of Common Cause, the NGO that filed the petition, said. “When we filed the PIL, even the Supreme Court(SC) had questioned the centre on why the government has a problem in allowing news broadcast by private radio stations. In the answer, the government claimed that it does not have the means to monitor the medium, and news dissemination on it could lead to breach of security,” Jaswal said. In a judgment of the Supreme Court, airwaves were made public property in 1995. In 2003, the government opened up airwaves to established educational institutions. In 2006, airwaves were also opened to community-based organisations or NGOs. Many advocacy groups working in the field of community radio also said that the ban on news by private broadcasters was a decision based on caution and fear. “Instead of coming up with newer technology, the government asks us to re-broadcast the news of All India Radio, without making changes,” said Arti Jaiman, station director of Gurgaon Ki Awaaz, a community radio. There are about 150 community radio stations in India and about 900 license applications pending with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. “We are asking for nothing more but then there should be a level playing field, like in countries like Bangladesh, and even in a small country like Nepal, where there are close to 250 community radio stations. All of them can broadcast news,” said Vinod Pavarala, UNESCO chair on community media at the University of Hyderabad.