Modi’s Akashvani: PM speeches, govt schemes on loop, opposition on pause

In 2014, the BJP promised more autonomy to Prasar Bharati. But a look at the national radio’s transformation suggests otherwise. Entertainment channels now air news, and most headlines revolve around one man.

WrittenBy:Sumedha Mittal
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Manohar Singh Rawat has a clear priority these days. “Let’s deal with these issues after G20. We are just caught up with that for now,” he insists, putting down the landline receiver in his office on the second floor of the iconic Akashvani building in Lutyens Delhi.

Between meetings and phone calls, the head of Akashvani’s Delhi programming division – who oversees key broadcasts such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly Mann Ki Baat – shares ideas to propagate a “positive opinion on G20”. 

“It is the first time we are doing all this,” he says, referring to his suggestion to hand out gifts to participants of a proposed slogan writing competition on G20. In his fourth decade at Akashvani, Rawat says the public radio broadcaster under Prasar Bharati has been “transformed” ever since PM Modi picked it for his Mann Ki Baat in 2014. 

The transformation is all too visible.

There is an unprecedented surge in broadcasts featuring the PM, which rose by 528 percent in 2019 as compared to 2013, as well as news bulletins and special shows on his government’s initiatives, Newslaundry has found. 

And the space for the opposition has shrunk.

Newslaundry spoke to 30 current and retired employees, who pointed to a “tectonic shift” under the Modi government. “Do you watch TV news? All the time they promote only one man. It is now the same with All India Radio but minus the noise,” said a former top official, who retired recently.

Akashvani, renamed from All India Radio, is a sister service of Doordarshan. As a radio service reaching 99 percent of the country’s population and covering 92 percent of the area, with programmes in 23 languages and 179 dialects, Akashvani is the only radio service allowed to air news. 

But what makes for news at the radio network?

The Modi bulletins 

There are three main English news bulletins each day,  each nearly 14-minute-long, across the stations which relay English news.  

Two of them began with the PM’s name, and each of them mentioned him at least seven times, as per a one-week analysis of FM Gold – Akashvani’s most popular channel – by Newslaundry between July 3 and July 9. 

In 14 of the 21 bulletins over a week, the prime minister was applauded or noted for his work at least 16 times a day. And on one day, he was mentioned as many as 56 times.

The central government was only referred to as PM Narendra Modi’s government, and the opposition was mentioned only when the government criticised it. 

Two editors said the format has been changed. One of them claimed that the radio service “never” used to add criticism of the opposition by the “PM or top Congress politicians”. “But now, that has completely changed.”

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