Lawrence LiangThe unreasonable hike in the spectrum fees is a retrograde move with serious implications for access and freedom of speech and expression. The government in recent years seems to conflate large and powerful telecom corporations and CR stations. The ‘UNMDG’ instance acknowledges access to communications technologies as being vital to the eradication of global poverty and hunger and views access to communications as a basic human need to participate in modern economic and political activity. The hike then needs to be understood not only in terms of its impact on the ability of a radio statios to survive, but on the impact that it has on the underlying development goals.
The Cricket Association case which inaugurated a new jurisprudence of access to communication clearly stated that the monopoly of the state over airwaves loses its moral legitimacy when a section of society is denied access to broadcasting. It is also pertinent to recall that while freedom of speech and expression is an individual right its actualization often relies on a vast infrastructure of intermediaries. A structural impediment such as the imposition of unreasonable fees results in an indirect control on free speech. The Supreme Court in India has consistently recognized the distinction between direct controls on free speech and indirect or structural controls on free speech. If the imposition of unreasonable costs on newsprints is seen as a violation of the right to free speech then surely the imposition of a fivefold hike in spectrum fee has to be a candidate for a claim of free speech violation.
Lawrence Liang, Co-founder, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore