The ban on broadcast of new programmes by private radio operators has been a constant issue for the radio sector. Over the years, radio operators and the Association of Radio Operators in India (AROI) have tried to get the Government to change its stance, but to no avail. A PIL was filed last year by social activist Prashant Bhushan, following which the Supreme Court questioned the Government on the reasons behind the existing ban. The Government’s primary concern is that it lacks a regulatory system to monitor content on radio channels.
Speaking to exchange4media, Uday Chawla, Secretary General, AROI said, “We were told last year that funds have been allocated for a central monitoring system for all radio channels. Once the system is in place, the ban should be lifted.” When asked when this was expected to happen, he replied that they (AROI) had been told it would take another year for the system to be put in place. If this is true, then it is safe to assume that the Government’s monitoring system should be operational by this year or early next year. Once the Government has its own monitoring system, it will not have any other excuse to continue enforcing the ban.
It should be mentioned here that most private operators feel that the Government’s concern over security is ludicrous. Speaking to exchange4media, many had called it “illogical”, while pointing out that since radio operators need more licenses than other media, it does not make sense to only target them, when news is available across other media. In a 1995 Supreme Court ruling, the court had stated airwaves to be public property and had further said that free speech in a democracy “cannot be provided by a medium controlled by a monopoly – whether the monopoly is of the State or any other individual, group or organisation.” MIB officials were unavailable for comment.
As per the FM Phase III policy guidelines, MIB has made a few concessions for private operators by allowing them to air “unaltered” new bulletins from the All India Radio. However, this has still not been put into practice as radio operators have yet to migrate to Phase III. It should be pointed out that most, if not all, democratic nations have no comparable bans on broadcast of news programmes on private radio channels.