On World Press Freedom Day, Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi took a veiled dig at the Congress-led Union government over the long-debated issue of Doordarshan's autonomy.
Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari, on his part, said on Saturday that his ministry had an arm's-length relationship with Prasar Bharati and the public broadcaster's autonomy was guaranteed by an act of Parliament.
Doordarshan and All India Radio function under the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990, which grants autonomy to the media units which were directly governed by the Centre in the pre-liberalisation era.
With the controversy over certain sections of his interview being edited out by DD News refusing to fade away, Modi wrote on Twitter, "I feel very sad to see our National TV channel struggling to maintain its professional freedom."
Pointing out that free press is a democracy's cornerstone and it must be preserved, he added, "We have witnessed the horrors of Emergency when freedom of press & freedom of expression were suppressed. It is a blot on our democracy."
Greetings to journalist friends on World Press Freedom Day. Free press is a democracy's cornerstone & must be preserved in letter & spirit.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 3, 2014
On days such as this, I feel very sad to see our National TV channel struggling to maintain its professional freedom.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 3, 2014
On the other hand, after Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar blamed him for failing to grant the state-run broadcaster "operational autonomy", Tewari pointed out that it was at his initiative that the Sam Pitroda committee was constituted to examine and look into the government's relations with Prasar Bharati.
Read: Prasar Bharati CEO takes on Tewari for ‘failing to grant autonomy'
"It was I who had suggested that the relations between Prasar Bharati and the government should be same as the finance ministry has with the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and its budget should be appropriated through the Consolidated Fund of India rather than routed through the ministry."
Sircar on Friday sent a letter to the broadcaster's board, adding a fresh chapter to the controversy and admitting that certain portions of Modi's interview to state-run Doordarshan "were apparently edited".
He also pointed to the interference the government can have in the form of transfers, appointments and punitive actions regarding against Prasar Bharati officials.
In the politically charged atmosphere, the row over Modi's interview surfaced two days ago after reports started doing the rounds that the BJP leader had said Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi's sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, was like "his daughter".
Read: I am Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter, says Priyanka to Modi
The Congress as well as Priyanka did not take it lightly. However, later it turned out that Modi did not say any such thing.
Modi's office on Friday released an unedited version, in which the BJP leader could be heard saying Congress leader Ahmed Patel was once his "good friend" and he would "never take offence" in what Priyanka said while campaigning. Both remarks were chopped off.
Read: Will quit public life if Modi can prove friendship, says Ahmed Patel
The saffron party alleged Modi's remarks were deliberately edited out, while Doordarshan said the editing was part of a routine post-production technical process.
Sircar pointed out in his letter that he had given the authorities concerned the 'strength' to go ahead and telecast Modi's interview, even though there were concerns that a 'balancing interview' from the other side could not be procured.
Taking a dig at the ruling party at the centre, BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu called Prasar Bharati a Prachar Bharati (mouthpiece) of the Congress.
He alleged that over the past decade, the public broadcaster had completely blacked out Modi and focused on Rahul.
(With agency inputs)