The top news official at public broadcaster DD News has claimed direct responsibility for the controversial editing of an interview with BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, which removed sympathetic references to Priyanka Gandhi and top Congress official Ahmed Patel.
“We had a 30-minute slot on April 27. So some portions had to be cut. I along with the additional director-general (Mayank Agarwal) and the news director decided to delete some portions,” SM Khan, director-general of DD News, told HT. The comments were removed because they were “politically insignificant”, he claimed.
Read: Modi questions press freedom, Tewari denies govt involvement
Asked why he did not cancel other programmes to fit the full interview, Khan said, “I had powers to cancel other programmes. But it was my discretion. Maybe we would have run the full interview some other day. Can somebody question you on how you choose to carry a story in your newspaper?”
Prasar Bharati, the entity that runs DD News, is now likely to order a probe into the channel’s decisions, which have touched off a major political controversy amid allegations that the top management at DD News consulted the information and broadcasting ministry, headed by Manish Tewari, on which portions to air.
Read: Manish Tewari failed to ensure autonomy: Prasar Bharati CEO
A final decision on a formal inquiry into the events surrounding the interview will be taken on Monday, Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar told HT via SMS.
Khan said he “did not take instructions or consult anyone” in deciding which portions to cut.
However, four sources close to the process told HT how a worried senior team had grappled with how much of the interview to broadcast, and when to transmit it, if at all. Ultimately, their hands appear to have been forced by a combination of social-media pressure and instructions from Sircar. Sircar issued instructions not to hold back the interview, a source claimed.
Asked about Priyanka’s defence of her family in the face of his criticism, Modi had told DD she had every right to campaign for her brother Rahul and mother Sonia “as a daughter”. Modi went on to claim Patel, political adviser to the Congress president, was a friend with whom he’d once shared meals but since lost touch.
The omission of these comments from the broadcast interview sparked angry reactions from the BJP, which accused Doordarshan of “censorship”. On Saturday, Modi tweeted, “I feel very sad to see our national TV channel struggling to maintain its professional freedom.” Responding to this, Tewari said DD’s autonomy is guaranteed by an act of Parliament.
Read: Modi interview was edited to fit 30-minute slot: DD News
Ashok Srivastava, the reporter who interviewed Modi, told HT he had pointed out to Khan that comments by the PM candidate that he bore no grudge towards Priyanka should be retained. “That was my personal judgement. But the management has every right to decide the final shape,” he said.
An active Twitter handle that goes by the name of India_MSM told HT a source alerted him to efforts to stop Modi’s interview telecast. On April 27, a little after noon, tagging Sircar, he tweeted that senior officials were delaying telecast under “political pressure”. Sircar responded, saying “Got Facts: DD News will announce” at 4.36pm that evening. Later that night, he added, “No praise or undue fears; we did our duty. We’ll do same for RG.” Two sources at DD told HT the senior news team was worried about how to handle the interview and that following the tweets, Sircar insisted the broadcast go ahead the same day.
Read: Congress leader Ahmed Patel says will quit public life if Modi can prove friendship
(With inputs from Prashant Jha)