The government telling the Supreme Court that allowing news content to be broadcast through private FM poses a threat to national security makes it clear just how it remains trapped in pre-digital-age thinking. The government, as per a report in The Times of India, gave an affidavit to SC saying that since there is no way to monitor what news content private FM channels and NGO-operated community radio services will broadcast, it poses a security risk as “several anti-national or radical elements … can misuse it for propagating their own agenda.” Apart from what it says about the government’s desire to police content, in a country where, at over 350 million, internet users outnumber FM listeners at least 3 to 1, the government thinking that radio is the medium anti-nationals and radicals will turn to—even as internet is set to reach over 700 million people in the country by 2020—reflects, at best, misplaced anxiety.
What is also disturbing is that the government assumes all NGOs are the same and puts them on the same footing as anti-nationals or radical elements. More so since, when the I&B ministry asked for proposals to study the effectiveness of community radio stations in 2014, it said they were instruments “of positive social change”, were an “ideal tool for community empowerment”, and listed “creating awareness about relevant local issues” and “providing useful information” among the objectives of such radio. That apart, since a large portion of FM channels are owned by media giants, it is difficult to appreciate the logic that allows these companies to disseminate news via newspapers and TV channels but not through FM channels.
Indeed, there is a deeper threat the government is not even aware of right now, and that is the deepweb/darknet, the virtually undetectable part of the internet used, among other things, to carry out illegal/contraband operations. There may not be as many Indian users of this as there are Americans or Germans, but their figures are rising. Terror groups, drug traders and other illegal outfits are increasingly shifting their activities and communications here, aided by the thriving ecosystem of crypto-currencies. This is what the government needs to watch out for, not private FM channels.