Newsbytheway's Blog

November 11, 2009

Radio journalism in India

Filed under: Media — Rabea Khan @ 10:54 pm
Tags: , ,

India is the biggest democracy in the world, with a population of over one billion. And yet it has deprived the majority of its people the basic right to information.

Private radio channels in India are banned from broadcasting news. The ban stems out from the archaic broadcasting law, The Telegraph Act of 1885, which gives full control to the government to grant or revoke license to private broadcasters.

The rationale lies in evolvement of broadcast in India. Till 1990s, the government had a monopoly over television and radio broadcasts. With the advent of cable television, private news channels came into the picture and eventually grew into a big industry overtaking Doordarshan, the public service broadcaster.

Radio had to wait till 2001, to get private ownership after a landmark ruling by Supreme Court in the Union of India Vs Cricket Association of Bengal case in1995. The Supreme Court was of the view that airwaves are public property and hence citizens are the owners by virtue of right conferred upon them by Article 19 of the constitution (right to freedom) with the exceptions noted in Article 19(2) relating to public safety.

The first radio channel, Radio City, was launched in Bangalore but with a license to broadcast entertainment shows only. Since then, 100 more radio channels have entered the Indian airwaves but as mere instruments of amusement.

The law has drastic implications that ripple down to the very core of democracy in India. If one goes by National Family Health Survey figures, only 44.2% of the households in India own a television. The condition is worse in the poor states of Bihar and Jharkhand where the percentage goes below 28%. So for the majority, the only option and source for getting news is by listening to radio. And what they get to hear is the mouthpiece of the ruling government, All India Radio (AIR).

All India Radio

If you want to know where the PM is headed for his next foreign visit or which head of state is visiting India, AIR is the channel for you.  But do not expect to hear anything remotely critical of the government in power. There is no written guideline to that effect, but an unspoken law does exist. Never in the history of broadcasting in independent India, AIR has said anything damning about the government.

For people who have access to cable television, it’s a different story. Private television news channels have in a way satiated the demand for news in towns and big cities. They can always get the other side of the story by watching a private news channel. But someone who has just got a radio is still only seeing one side of the coin.

The situation becomes more serious during election campaigns as radio plays a vital role in formulating opinions that can translate into votes. The possibility of AIR broadcasting anything that criticises the government is ridiculous.

Hence to protect the democratic rights of the citizens, it becomes highly essential that they are well aware of the choices to make an informed decision. This is only possible if there are private radio news channels in the market.

Government argues that the Indian audience is yet to mature to be able to handle unobstructed news. In reality, it is wary of the fact that radio waves will be bombarded with the news channels, making it hard for them to censor anything.

No Doubt, India been a sensitive society needs certain laws and rules as to what can be broadcast. Radio commanding a far greater reach, if allowed to run amok like TV, will become Goliath. Hence change is imperative but with certain degree of restrain.

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