New Delhi, Oct 17 (PTI) Why not allow private radio stations, including community radios, to broadcast news when the same is allowed for television channels?, the Supreme Court today asked the Centre.

Agreeing to hear the PIL filed by NGO Common Cause, a bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam raised questions on why the government has a problem in allowing news broadcast by private radio stations which is more accessible for the masses particularly the poor.

It issued notice to the Centre on a PIL seeking its direction to the government to allow private radio stations, including community radio, to broadcast news.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, pleaded that unlike television channels, none of the 245 private FM channels and 145 community radio stations in the country is allowed to broadcast their own news and current affairs programmes, which is the monopoly of government-run broadcaster Prasar Bharati.

“You rightly mentioned that radio is accessible to everybody. There is no problem (for govt)in case of TV channels,” the bench said, asking the government to respond on why private radio stations be not allowed to broadcast news.

The NGO contended that like television channels, radio stations be allowed to broadcast news as this medium is far more accessible to people and radio stations can be set up without much investment.

“India is perhaps the lone democracy where the dissemination of news and current affairs programmes on radio remains a monopoly of the government-owned broadcaster, Prasar Bharati Corporation, which owns and operates All India Radio/Akashvaani,” the NGO said in its plea.

The government’s separate guidelines for community radio and FM radio are “discriminatory” as they impose “unreasonable restrictions” on the broadcast of news and current affairs programmes by community radio and FM radio stations when such prohibitions are not there on TV channels and print media, the NGO has said.

The petition also submitted that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which took over the regulatory responsibilities for broadcasting in January 2004, had recommended to the government that restrictions on private and community radio channels from broadcasting news and current affairs programmes be removed.

The NGO in its petition has challenged the validity of the policy guidelines and grant of permission agreements framed by the Centre, saying that while these norms allow broadcasting of information, including news on sports, traffic, weather, etc. what is not allowed is broadcast of political news and current affairs. “The guidelines also allow ‘information’ to be broadcast, including news on sports, traffic, weather, cultural events, education and employment, and public announcements made by local authorities on amenities like water and power supply. Effectively, there is a ban on political news more than anything else, since many other kinds of news are allowed under the banner of ‘information’,” the petition said.