Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly radio programme Mann Ki Baat has been a hit on the airwaves three months in a row, with audiences tuning in to hear the PM on Sunday mornings. But the show’s success, it turns out, is partly driven by the mighty hand of officialdom.
Documents reviewed by HT show the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) pressed the information and broadcasting ministry and public broadcaster Prasar Bharati to mount “cross-media” publicity for the programme and also pursue privately-owned media to cut back routine programming and broadcast Mann Ki Baat.
For instance, while preparing for the second show aired on November 2, the PMO got in touch with All-India Radio (AIR), “desiring” that private radio and TV channels relay audio of the talk.
“PMO has desired that private radio, television channels and Doordarshan also make use of the audio with suitable visuals and footage,” AIR chief F Sheheryar wrote in an official communication on October 14, listing out points that needed action.
Citing PMO officials, the AIR chief’s letter also suggested that DD News run scrolls on the radio show. Sheheryar did not respond to HT’s calls and texts for a comment.
Under the law, the government and Prasar Bharati are required to maintain an “arm’s length distance” to maintain the public broadcaster’s autonomy, which appears to have been breached.
Sheheryar’s letter also cites an intervention by Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar, where he suggests the ministry to direct the directorate of audio-visual publicity to put out multilingual ads in the press.
The I&B ministry appears to have used its influence to impress upon private channels as well.
“The ministry did approach us. But we were also happy to carry the talk show and be given permission for it. It was voluntary in that sense,” Uday Chawla, secretary-general of the Radio Operators’ Association of India, told HT.
The head of a leading private FM channel told HT that he didn’t agree when the ministry initially requested the station to broadcast the show. “When the ministry requested us a second time, we agreed,” he said.
To make it easy for private channels to carry the show, Prasar Bharati released the audio broadcast on the state-run direct-to-home service Free Dish and also used the “XLR audio output” format to make it compatible with all “definitions”, the communication stated.