A clear bid to arm-twist PTI

A clear bid to arm-twist PTI

Prasar Bharathi

Prasar Bharati’s decision to terminate its subscription with Press Trust of India (PTI) does not come as a surprise because it has in the past given indications of likely action against the news agency. The national broadcaster has cancelled the subscription with all news agencies and decided to call for fresh bids for contracts in which it has said PTI can also participate. But it is known that the action is directed against PTI, with which it has been unhappy for a long time. In June this year, Prasar Bharati had strongly criticised the news agency, describing its coverage of some events as “anti-national’’. It said the agency’s conduct was “detrimental to national interest and undermined the country’s territorial integrity.” The reference obviously was to some reports related to the tension on the border with China in Ladakh. 

The government was not happy with two interviews PTI had done with the Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong and the Indian ambassador to China Vikram Misri. While it thought the interview with the Chinese ambassador was ill-timed and inappropriate, it was especially annoyed with the agency for the interview with the Indian ambassador whose comments contradicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that there was no Chinese intrusion in Ladakh. Prasar Bharati, toeing the government’s line, had threatened to end its subscription then, and it has done that now. But the larger questions involved are about the autonomy of Prasar Bharati and the independence of the media. PTI is the country’s premier news agency and has professionally maintained fairness and independence in its coverage of events. A news agency which caters to many clients of diverse views and interests has to be rightly non-partisan and independent in its coverage. Prasar Bharati’s complaint could only have arisen from the fact that the agency was indeed non-partisan and independent. 

Prasar Bharati is not the government’s arm and organ. It should not parrot the government's views and conduct itself as its hatchet agency. It was created by an Act of Parliament, is funded by the people, and is meant to be an autonomous broadcaster. It has no right to punish a news agency and discontinue its services if the agency reports news or views which are not to the liking of the government. It is shameful that it described the news agency as “anti-national,’’ which is the government’s and the BJP’s preferred term of abuse for any critic. In this case, however, the news agency was not even a critic, it was only the messenger, who has now been shot. The action is yet another instance of the government’s intolerance and propensity to punish independent media.