Community Media and the Internet – Common Ground on Freedom of Speech?

On 3 February 2012, the Internet Democracy Project an Maraa, with the support of the Community Radio Forum, are organising a meeting on ‘Freedom of Expression in Community Media and on the Internet – Understanding Connections, Finding Common Ground’.

Access to FM radio and broadband Internet access have proliferated since the 90s. Since 2006, community radio has been licensed to community and educational initiatives. Today there are more than 150 community radio stations which are operational, reaching some of the most underserved communities in India. Further, Internet penetration is about 8-10%, reaching about 100 million people. Both these media are on the verge of a paradigm shift.

Due to ever-increasing convergence and the ubiquity of digital communication platforms and mobile telephony, community radio stations will be able to reach not just deeper but wider. The emergence of indigenous fonts and Internet on wireless mobile technologies will mean that the next few hundred million people will begin using the Internet. Both of these phenomena are positive developments signalling possibilities of greater democratisation of media and media for the democratisation of India at multiple levels. However, there are significant issues which threaten to impede the free growth of these platforms – troubling as it is, the threats are related to barriers on freedom of expression.

While radio still faces a ban on the broadcast of news and current affairs, opaque spectrum allocation, the imposition of a government content code and pressure to self-regulate, the Internet on the other hand has seen tumultuous developments through 2011 and early this year as well. Both the government and the judiciary have shown scant respect for and confidence in their own people, choosing instead to regulate the free flow of information citing communal sensitivities, minority population, objectionable content, etc.

This meeting aims to bring together advocates and practitioners from both the community radio and the Internet communities, to discuss what restrictions there are on freedom of expression, through law and policy; what commonalities there are between the two platforms; and what the areas and mechanisms are through and in which these two groups can work together in the future to engage policy and legal frameworks so that people’s constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression is upheld in letter and in spirit.

The meeting invites about 15 participants from both community radio and Internet circles, from across the country. The meeting will be held between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on 3 February 2012 and will take place at the UNESCO Office, B-5/29, Safdarjang Enclave, New Delhi 110029.

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