‘Obviously surreptitious and swift’: Prasar Bharati, DD News not informed of Maharashtra swearing-in ceremony

ANI broke the news at 8 am instead while AIR was intimated ‘at the last minute’.

ByAyush Tiwari
‘Obviously surreptitious and swift’: Prasar Bharati, DD News not informed of Maharashtra swearing-in ceremony
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National broadcaster Prasar Bharati was not invited to cover the swearing-in of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his Deputy Ajit Pawar on Saturday, November 23, reports The Economic Times

The report adds, quoting Prasar Bharati officials, that Doordarshan News was not informed about the event. DD News covers government functions and affairs, and Prasar Bharati is its parent organisation.

All India Radio was intimated about the ceremony at the last minute as its Mumbai correspondent was in touch with Fadnavis’s office.

Fadnavis and Pawar’s swearing-in at 7.50 am on Saturday in Mumbai’s Raj Bhavan raised eyebrows as there were no prior intimations about the event to the public or the mainstream media. 

News agency Asia News International (ANI) broke the news at 8 am. The agency’s closeness to the current establishment has often been a point of discussion. A recent profile of ANI in The Caravan argued that the news agency “has a disturbing history of producing blatant propaganda for the state”. 

The ET report quoted “an official” on the matter, who said: “Ideally, given the event’s importance, it should have been live telecast by Doordarshan with a multi-camera setup, and also covered by AIR with bilingual commentary. But since everything happened so hurriedly, it is possible that there was no time to inform us and wait till the arrangements.”

“It was obviously done quite surreptitiously and swiftly before anybody could trip them,” former Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharati, Jawhar Sircar, told Newslaundry. “It was about getting over with the act as soon as possible. They stuck to the bare rituals.”

Sircar told Newslaundry that the move might not have precedence. “Prasar Bharati is a big organisation. A lot of things are happening. But then, I was stunned to see in October 2014 on the TV that Mohan Bhagwat’s address to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was being broadcast on Doordarshan. They just didn’t inform me,” he said. At the time, Sircar had been the CEO of Prasar Bharati. But he adds that “these sort of things happen anyway”.

Brijeshwar Singh, who served as the Director-General of All India Radio in the mid-2000s and was the Prasar Bharati CEO for six months in 2006, told Newslaundry he did not recall such a move in his tenure. But, he added, there does exist precedence. 

“When MGR returned from the US after he had a stroke, he was sworn in by Governor SL Khurana with no journalist present,” Singh said. “AIR and Doordarshan were not invited and it was held in complete secrecy.”. 

MG Ramachandran, who served as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu between 1977 and 1987, was sworn in as CM for the third time in February 1985 after undergoing kidney treatment in New York between September 1984 and January 1985. A 2017 biography of MGR by commentator R. Kannan says the swearing-in was closed to the media.

However, Singh added, in the 1980s, Doordarshan did not have to be present. “In those days, Doordarshan was issued information by the government secretariat. They didn’t have to take any bytes.”

Given the context of Fadnavis’s swearing-in, with the political back-and-forth in Maharashtra over the last month, would the absence of the public broadcaster at the event be seen as a significant departure from tradition? Singh said he has no comments.

A day after the swearing-in, the official Twitter handle of Prasar Bharati News Services took a dig at Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, dubbing his tweets questioning the BJP-NCP alliance in the state as “damage control”. The tweet has now been deleted. 

I asked Singh why Prasar Bharati might tweet something like this, in addition to its “terroristan” tweet from late September that has still not been removed. Singh said the institution’s behaviour depends on the degree of autonomy it has, and Prasar Bharati cannot boast of much. “Its assets were never handed over by the government. It is still funded by the government because it could not achieve financial autonomy,” he explained. “The grants are discretionary. So it cannot be compared to, say, the BBC, which is fairly independent and takes a left-wing stance in domestic matters even when a conservative government is in power in the UK.”

Covering annual events like Independence Day and Republic Day fall into Doordarshan’s purview, as do events like the Cabinet swearing-in, oath-taking ceremonies of the Chief Justice of India, and the President’s address. “State events” are also covered live: these include state cabinet swearing-in, oath-taking events of governors and chief justices of the high courts, joint sessions of state legislatures addressed by governors, and relief visits by CMs.

The events are usually covered by the public broadcaster after it is informed about these by the director of information and public relations of the state government. Under the President’s rule, this responsibility rests with the governor’s office.

Newslaundry sent a questionnaire to Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati. The story will be updated as and when he responds.


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