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RTI Application to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on content code violations by radio stations

Posted by Torsha Sarkar at Dec 11, 2019 12:20 PM |

Background

 

In 1995, the Supreme Court of India, in the case of The Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting v Cricket Association of Bengal, declared airwaves to be public property. The judgment formed the stepping stones to liberalizing the broadcasting media, and freeing up the sector from government monopoly.

Despite the fact that more than two decades have passed since the judgment, community and private FM channels continue to face a government embargo from curating and broadcasting news and content on current affairs. The Phase III FM Policy and the Grant of Permission Agreement (GoPA) for community radios broadly restrict these radio channels from broadcasting news, with two exceptions. FM and community radio stations can still broadcast updates on  a few categories of content that the regulations classify as “non-news”, such as sports, …, etc. Additionally, they can rebroadcast the All India Radio (AIR) news bulletin verbatim. 

Common Cause in 2013 filed a petition challenging the constitutionality of this prohibition. The Government replied that allowing these radio channels to broadcast their own news may threaten national security. In an article published in the NLUD Journal of Legal Studies earlier this year, Gurshabad Grover, Rajashri Seal, Neil Trivedi and I have argued that these restrictions are unconstitutional. Further, we also pointed out that the government’s concerns are unfounded, owing to the manner in which the current regulatory framework is configured.
 

Application under the Right to Information Act

 

To further our research, we sought information on the extent of radio stations’ compliance with the content code and the use of Government’s oversight mechanism (examination of recordings of their broadcasts). On October 23rd, I filed an RTI with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MI&B) asking for information regarding instances where these channels had violated the content restrictions placed on them.

The text of the application is reproduced below:

 

To:


Shri Yogendra Trehan

Central Public Information Officer (RTI)

Dy. Director (FM)

Director (DS II), Room No 116, A Wing,

Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi, 110001


Sir,

Subject: Information on private FM radio licenses and violations

This is to request you to provide the following information under the Right to Information 2005.

Period of information requested: 10 years (2010 to 2019)

1. Number of instances where an FM radio channel was suspended from broadcasting due to violation of conditions 11.1, 11.2 or 12.1 of the Phase 3 FM Policy (i.e content related violations)

2. Number of instances where an FM radio channel permission was revoked due to violation of conditions 11.1, 11.2 or 12.1 of the Phase 3 FM Policy (i.e content related violations).

3. Number of instances where the 5 year or 10 year license renewal application of an FM radio channel was rejected due to content related violations.

4. Number of examinations of the recordings of content broadcast on FM radio stations.

[...]

To the best of my belief, the details sought for fall within your authority. Further, as provided under section 6(3) of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), in case this application does not fall within your authority, I request you to transfer the same in the designated time (5 days) to the concerned authority and inform me of the same immediately.

To the best of my knowledge, the information sought does not fall within the restrictions contained in sections 8 and 9 of the RTI Act, and any provision protecting such information in any other law for the time being in force is inapplicable due to section 22 of the RTI Act.

Please provide me this information in electronic form, via the e-mail address provided above. This to certify that I, Torsha Sarkar, am a citizen of India.

Date: 23rd October, 2019

Place: Bengaluru, Karnataka

The FM Cell of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) responded to the application on November 21st with information regarding the same. Their response is reproduced below:

 


In so far as FM Cell of this Ministry is concerned, it is stated that,no channel was suspended from broadcasting or permission was revoked due to violation of conditions 11.1, 11.2 or 12.1 of the Phase -lll FM policy. No instances ln so far as FM Cell of this Ministry is concerned, it is stated where the 5 year or 10 year license renewal application of an FM radio channel or 12.1 of the Phase -lll FM policy. 17 instances of complaints regarding violation of content code by private FM radio stations were received and suitable action in terms of the Grant of Permission Agreement has been taken by the Government after examination of the recordings of broadcast.

 

Conclusion

As the MIB’s records show, there are nearly 380 private FM channels and 185 community FM channels in India as of August 2019. In the face of such numbers, there have been mere seventeen instances of the private FM channels violating the content code in the last ten years, and none of these were serious enough for their broadcasting licenses to be revoked or them to face suspension.


The low number of complaints against radio stations can be interpreted in a number of ways: However, coupled with the fact there is an onerous process of obtaining a license and permissions for broadcasting, one interpretation can be that the numbers are generally indicative of the fact that radio station operators are generally compliant with the content code.

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The text of the RTI Application was drafted by Raouf Kundil Peedikayil, who interned with CIS. This blogpost was edited by Gurshabad Grover and Elonnai Hickok.

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