Sircar pointed a finger at Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari for failing to grant the public broadcaster “operational autonomy” that it has been seeking for years.
It’s a shame that the bureaucracy is forced to do unacceptable things by the ministers at times. Sometimes the bureaucrats speak up and sometimes they fear losing their job and keep mum. But Prasar Bharti CEO Jawahar Sircar has made it to the list of exceptions.
On Friday, Sircar wrote to the Prasar Bharti Board acknowledging the fact that certain portions of the Narendra Modi interview on Doordarshan “were apparently edited”. He is also learnt to have pointed a finger at Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari for failing to grant the public broadcaster “operational autonomy” that it has been seeking for years.
Sircar has taken on the ministerial interference in the working of Prasar Bharti in the past too.
The Modi interview, which was broadcasted a day later after its recording, had underwent heavy editing as per the media reports. Portions of the interview where Modi had refused to attack Priyanka Vadra and had spoken about Congress leader and party high command’s rght hand Ahmed Patel had been cut.
In both the reports by The Times of India and The Indian Express, Sircar had denied the charges. But IANS today confirmed his knowledge of editing in a letter to the Board.
According to the report, Sircar, in his letter, said he has been inundated with non-stop calls, social media messages, e-mails and other queries, to find out whether Doordarshan had withheld the Modi interview and why it had edited out portions.
He wrote: “…it appears that while portions critical of Doordarshan were telecast, certain comments on other personalities were apparently edited” in the Modi interview telecast April 27.
Charging the board of “failure to seek more operational autonomy despite taking several resolutions in two years”, Sircar asserted that “questions have been raised in the public domain about the impartiality and ‘motives’ of the public broadcaster”.
Sircar further wrote: “In a way, therefore, MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) lost an opportunity to convince a young minister (Manish Tewari) to break this long traditional linkage between the ministry and the News Division, which has continued unabated even after PB was born and assigned its distinct role in 1997.”
Indicating the manner in which the ministry controls the PB, he wrote: “The mechanisms of appointment, transfers, career assessments and even punitive actions against senior officials of the News Division are bound to cast a ‘shadow’, in some form.”
Sircar said that after the DD team got the interview with Modi, there were concerns that they had not yet managed a counter-interview with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.
“I gave him (DG News) the ‘strength’ to go ahead and telecast the interview, even though there were concerns that a ‘balancing interview’ from the other side could not be procured, despite best attempts of DD News,” Sircar said in his letter.
Explaining the moves by the PB board aimed at acquiring autonomy, he said: “Another pertinent initiative of the PB Board, i.e, to bring in ‘external professionals’ met with some degree of success, but where the post of Directors General of Doordarshan and AIR are concerned, it did not succeed.”
“The Recruitment Rules still ensure that only government and quasi-government persons can occupy the post, which is pegged at approximately Rs.22 lakh per annum against sharply higher market rates. I have tried my best to explain that these need to be reviewed, because times are changing; but I have not succeeded.
“If there had been some degree of fresh thinking in these two proposals, we may not have faced the type of public criticism that a single interview has invited.”
He said he would present the issues before the PB board during its meeting in June.
He said the best option for the News Division is to make all-out efforts to seek a balancing interview so that the neutrality of the public broadcaster is not questioned; telecast interviews, at the earliest juncture, with due publicity; and do so, without editing.
While the editing of the interview was an open secret, the move had created a political storm with the Bharatiya Janata Party alleging government control over the public broadcaster.
Meanwhile, I&B minister Manish Tewari has pleaded ignorance about the letter Sircar shot off to the Prasar Bharati board saying that he has “not seen the letter” and that he cannot comment because it was “not addressed” to him.
It should be noted that on Thursday, Tewari had tried to put a full stop on the speculations of interference by saying that the I&B ministry had no connection with the piece of interview. He had said: “Prasar Bharati is an autonomous broadcaster and is governed by an act of parliament. The ministry of information and broadcasting has an arms-length relationship with the broadcaster. We do not interfere in their news agenda.”
Former bureaucrat Kiran Bedi tweeted her reaction:
Bane of ‘Babudom’ is that they write/speak up more 4 self survival than selfless service for which they are! Which is why its late at times!
— Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) May 3, 2014
Bureaucrat/s have started to speak up,even write!! India’s governance would have been very different,if their sense of timing had been right
— Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) May 3, 2014
Sircar’s move may have given courage to bureaucrats but the UPA government stands exposed. It will be interesting to see how Tewari defends himself and the government.
-With inputs from agency