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Doordarshan: Autonomous? Not Anymore.

Common people, who are bearing the brunt of the BJP’s failed policies, will not be fooled by this coerced “reporting”.

Write, write as you wish, and write well. But there is one condition, your words must please the Nizam. This seems to be the intent behind the directions in the Doordarshan Mumbai Centre’s order, dated July 3, 2018, to its various stringers in the state. They were directed to immediately send ground reports of the various welfare schemes of the central government. Apparently, the stringers have failed to send these reports despite many reminders. Now, a termination notice has been sent to the stringers, who have been asked to submit a proper reply as to why they have not fulfilled this task; if they fail to do so, their services will be terminated.

Doordarshan, a division of Prasar Bharati, is an Indian public broadcaster. Until 1990, Prasar Bharti was under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. In 1990, under Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, it was granted autonomy. Under the functions of the corporation, it was mentioned that it shall “safeguard citizen’s right to be informed freely, truthfully and objectively on all matters of public interest”. It was also mentioned that the information should include “contrasting views without advocating any opinion or ideology of its own”.

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To a layman, the above-mentioned notification of Doordarshan seems to be in coherence with the functions of the corporation. But we need to see this notification in the context of the current political environment of the country.

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Since Narendra Modi-led BJP government came to power, freedom of expression is under threat, even more so for the media. We have witnessed journalists being threatened if they write against the government. Media houses, especially some television news channels, have faced wrath of the government for their negative reports on the government or its schemes. Journalists have been murdered for writing against the Hindutva politics, which is the ideology the ruling regime upholds. At the same time, a section of media is enjoying full support of the government, as they play the role of a mouthpiece.

India has slipped to 138 position in the list of 180 nations in press freedom index in the year 2018. In 2016, we were at 133. In such a fearful environment, can any journalist on the payroll of the Public Broadcaster be encouraged to write ‘freely, truthfully and objectively’ about the government’ schemes?

Just last week, a national television news channel got into controversy because its managing editor, a senior journalist and an anchor resigned or were sent on a long leave. The channel’s proprietor allegedly had asked the journalist to not show or mention PM Modi during his show, which was aired during prime time. Ironically, the show examined the implementation on the grassroots level – or the lack of it – of the Centre’s welfare schemes.

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The stringers, who might face termination, are allegedly paid a meagre Rs. 1200 per story. They are not paid travel allowance or any other allowance. The Centre, without giving them any extra help – financial or otherwise, had asked them for ground reports which warrant extensive research and travel. Nowhere in the notification it is mentioned that these stringers have not sent stories other than the ones on the welfare schemes.

These notifications make it evident that the autonomy of Doordarshan is a thing of the past. The agencies responsible for the free flow of information to the common people are going to act as the puppets of government.

It is evident that the BJP or the Modi government doesn’t want a reality check, but fictional reporting about it, which would show that everything is hunky dory. In view of the 2019 general elections, BJP wants to paint a glossy picture of its schemes before the common people of the country.

In medieval times, kings used to appoint poets in their courts to write epics praising them. The BJP hasn’t really come out of the medieval era, is evident from its ideology. But, now they want the public broadcaster to turn into their personal entertainer. However, common people, who are bearing the brunt of their failed policies will not be fooled by this coerced “reporting”.

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