ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Who's Afraid of Radio in India?

India could well benefit from the creation of a three-tier system of broadcasting: a state-owned public service network; commercial private broadcasting and non-profit, people-owned and managed community radios.

We claim to be the world’s largest democracy, but fear the opening up the airwaves to the common man. Our democratic traditions are far stronger, yet countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and perhaps even Bangladesh are edging past us in making radio relevant to their citizens. India’s reluctant march towards democratising radio indeed makes the intentions of its rulers suspect.

Broadcasting in India is speedily shifting its profile. Indian radio is currently changing from being a government monopoly to highly-commercialised broadcasting. But this media needs to be democratised too. Privatisation and total deregulation will not mean much to the average citizen if radio fails to get a chance to play a vital role in their lives. India has so far clearly given stepmotherly treatment to public service, community, educational and development broadcast networks. Over five years back, the Indian Supreme Court gave an interesting ruling. This judgment strongly critiqued the long-held government monopoly over broadcasting in this country. In early 1995, the court declared the airwaves as public property, to be utilised for promoting public good and ventilating plurality of views, opinions and ideas [AIR 1995 Supreme Court 1236]. This judgment held that the ‘freedom of speech and expression’ guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution includes the right to acquire and disseminate information. And, in turn, the right to disseminate includes the right to communicate through any media – print, electronic or audio-visual. “The fundamental rights”, said the judgment, “can be limited only by reasonable restrictions under a law made for the purpose...The burden is on the authority to justify the restrictions. Public order is not the same thing as public safety and hence no restrictions can be placed on the right to freedom of speech and expression on the ground that public safety is endangered.” Judges Sawant and Mohan held that: “Broadcasting is a means of communication and, therefore, a medium of speech and expression. Hence in a democratic polity, neither any private individual, institution or organisation nor any government or government organisation can claim exclusive right over it. Our Constitution also forbids monopoly either in the print, or electronic media.”

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