An interview aired on Doordarshan opened a Pandora’s Box. It exposed the hypocrisy propagated in the name of autonomy to Prasar Bharati, working style of the UPA Government and also the lack of leadership capabilities in ruling Congress. The whole controversy shows all talks of autonomy to Doordarshan (DD) are farce and the country’s national broadcaster is still in the clutches of government.
DD interviewed BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi recently and telecast it on April 27 with some omissions. Originally, the interview was of 56 minutes, but what was aired was only 32 minutes omitting some very valid points.
Where it is said to have referred to Priyanka Gandhi as being ‘like my daughter’ was not censored. As Prasar Bharati's several earlier recommendations on Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) news wings have not been honoured by ministry, leading to complications, we have asked MIB to tell us clearly whether they would abide by a neutral enquiry or not.
—Jawhar SircarCEO, Prasar Bharati
A probe must be ordered to find out under whose pressure the contents of the interview were edited. When Modi had never said that Priyanka was his daughter, how has this appeared in newspapers? Modi only said it is natural for a daughter to defend her mother and brother. This should be probed under whose pressure the interview wasdeliberately distorted.
—Ravi Shankar PrasadBJP Leader
This interview row took a strange turn when a leading newspaper reported that some important portions of Modi’s interview were omitted and were not aired. In those portions, Modi was reported calling Priyanka Vadra “like his daughter.’ Reacting on the news report, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram said. “I am happy that Narendra Modi considers Priyanka as his daughter, but I am not sure if she will be happy to consider Modi as a father figure.” After Chidambaram’s remarks, Priyanka also commented, “mein Rajiv Gandhi ki beti hoon (I am Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter). My father died for this country. I love him more than I love anybody else in my life. And I don’t appreciate this comparison at all.”
When the controversy took a heated turn after Priyanka’s comments, Modi’s office released the full unedited version of the interview pointing out that Modi never said Priyanka like his daughter.
Apart from it, DD also censored Modi’s remarks about Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and Pakistan’s former president Parvez Musharraf. One thing in this controversy needs emphasis that Congress leadership reacted very harshly on a newspaper report. They did not care to confirm the facts of Modi’s interview from DD. It proves the Congress leadership has been attacking Modi in the same manner for long—without facts and totally unprepared.
BJP alleged that it all happened under government pressure. Reacting on the interview raw Modi rued the ‘decline’ in journalistic freedom in the public broadcaster and invoked ‘horrific’ memories of the Emergency days in 1975. He reminded the people of the Emergency imposed by the late Indira Gandhi in 1975 when curbs were placed on the media. He said in another tweet, “We have witnessed the horrors of Emergency when freedom of press and freedom of expression were suppressed. It is a blot on our democracy.” He said free press is democracy’s cornerstone and must be preserved in letter and spirit.
On the interview row, Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharati, Jawhar Sircar attacked IB Minister, Manish Tiwari in a letter to Prasar Bharati Board Members tried to clarify the doubts about Modi interview. Pointing out that government control over transfers, posting and overall career trajectory of the officials of news division cast a long shadow over the department. He further said he has no real power over the news division. The CEO said for the last two years he has been seeking more autonomy to bring in professionals from outside but he failed to revise the rules.
This single interview exposed the much talked autonomy or freedom to Prasar Bharati and the Government control over it. If the national public broadcaster has to compete with private news channels and wants to restore its credibility among viewers the autonomy to Prasar Bharati is must and DD should be run by professionals.
Dr Ravindra Agrawal, (The writer is a senior journalist)