Ranjona Banerji: DD – still a government mouthpiece?

18 Aug,2017

By Ranjona Banerji​

 

The big media fear, once Hamid Ansari’s term as vice-president ended, was: what was going to happen to Rajya Sabha TV. So far, although there has been some change at the top, RSTV remains as it was – one of the more sober, well-conducted news channels available. Apart from live proceedings of the Upper House, it has an excellent mix of news, culture and opinion.

But if there is change in the air, it was in Prasar Bharati-run Doordarshan’s decision not to run Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s Independence Day speech. He was asked to change his speech or else. On what basis can Doordarshan censor the speech of a sitting chief minister? It has had no problems running RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s speeches live on the national channel, when Bhagwat has no constitution locus standii of any sort. The RSS is spiritual adviser and overseer of the Bharatiya Janata Party – does that give the RSS a constitutional position in Prasar Bharati’s eyes? Evidently, because DD can broadcast a full speech by someone who has no official standing whereas it sees it within its powers to ask a sitting chief minister to “reshape” his speech or else.

Sarkar’s speech has been carried in various newspapers and websites. It talks about how minorities and Dalits are under attack from those who claim to be cow protectors. It says, “The followers of those who were not associated with the Independence movement, rather sabotaged the freedom movement, were servile to the atrocious plundering and merciless British, aligned with anti-national forces, having decorated themselves today in different colours are striking at the root of unity and integrity of India.”

Presumably this is what upset Doordarshan’s bosses. Sarkar’s speech talked about Indian principles of diversity and secularism – both inimical to the rightwing Hindutva movement. Clearly, the chief minister of a state is powerless compared to censoring powers of the national broadcaster. Whether this was deliberate or official over-reach, the end result is the same. And the message is clear: Doordarshan is more than a lackey to the powers-that-be: it is an active Censor Board. That you are elected by the people of India is of no consequence or value.

Bhagwat in his 2014 Das​sera speech, telecast on DD, spoke of the “jihadi” threat which was going to “endanger…Hindu society”, with specific references to Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Bihar. He also said that “Hindutva” was India’s “national identity”. Who believes this apart from the BJP and its affiliates? Most Indians would be quite surprised to learn of this “national identity”. One assumes that there was nothing “hostile” in these sentiments as far as Prasar Bharati is concerned? And that it saw no reason to ask Bhagwat to “reshape” his speech.

Although most of us in the media do not give Doordarshan much attention, it is worth remembering that it has huge reach across India and that is an influence which cannot be underestimated. All those pretensions to Prasar Bharati stopping DD from becoming a government lackey have clearly come to nothing as the refusal to telecast Sarkar’s speech demonstrates.

The link to Sarkar’s speech is here:

https://thewire.in/168429/tripura-cm-manik-sarkars-independence-dayspeech-dd-air-refused-broadcast/

 

Is it worth pointing out that we have a new Union Information and Broadcasting Minister in Smriti Irani?

 

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