In a hard-hitting letter, Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar on Friday acknowledged that certain portions of the Narendra Modi interview on Doordarshan "were apparently edited" and 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.
The remarks, contained in a letter to the broadcaster's board, came in the context of a raging controversy after the state-run DD News edited out some parts of an interview of the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi it telecast on April 27.
"My letter to the board reached the public domain as others felt there was nothing to hide. I am totally neutral but stand up for autonomy and the spirit and for professionalism (in the letter). I have not said anything about any minister, but only rued the failed opportunity to professionalise PB & DD because of pettiness," Sircar told HT.
Sircar, who in the past too has taken on the minister over interference in functioning of Prasar Bharati, pointed to the interference the government can have in the form of transfers, appointments and punitive actions regarding Prasar Bharati officials.
The ministry had recently shot down Sircar's proposal to put landed assets of Prasar Bharati to commercial use to generate revenue. A ministry official, requesting anonymity said: "We do not have any role in news content. We are required by law to maintain an arm's length distance."
Tewari pleaded ignorance about the letter Sircar shot off to the Prasar Bharati board, under which Doordarshan and All India Radio function.
Tewari told IANS: "I have not seen the letter. It was not addressed to me, so how am I supposed to comment."
On Thursday, Tewari 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."
In his letter, Sircar 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 said "…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.
Asserting that "questions have been raised in the public domain about the impartiality and 'motives' of the public broadcaster", Sircar said the PB board had "taken several resolutions in the last two years, seeking more operational autonomy from the ministry, but it has failed to do so".
Sircar said: "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 said: "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.
Doordarshan had edited out portions from Modi's interview where he had referred to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and to Ahmed Patel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political advisor.
The move had created a political storm with the Bharatiya Janata Party alleging government control over the public broadcaster.