Representational Image. | Image Courtesy: Live Mint
Are we set for a new information policy -- of one country, one news -- for Prasar Bharti and private players like FM radio? All in the name of ‘information and education to citizens’, as the Information & Broadcasting Ministry indicated recently.
There are clear indications that till at least a few months from now, such a policy would become operative and will carry on till May-end only. The deal is that private FM stations would now carry All India Radio (AIR) news bulletins for free. But the conditions are clearly spelt out that the government free news would be broadcast in totality by the private FM stations.
With this policy, a honeymoon has begun between AIR and private FM players for election year 2019, totally blessed by public broadcaster Prasar Bharti. This is said to be a trial “new sharing initiative” which, ironically, will be reassessed on May 31, 2019 (after the end of the Lok Sabha polls).
The announcement came on January 8 at a press conference by I&B Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore. This is a clear break with the past.
Simultaneously, just a few days ago, Prasar Bharti also decided to shut down the national channel of AIR to rationalise and cut operational costs. Incidentally, this programme was said to be popular among our soldiers, especially those who are posted in tough terrains. A decision was also taken to disband all the five Regional Academics of Broadcasting and Multi-media (RABM) situated in Thiruvananthapuram, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Luckow and Hyderabad “with immediate effect”.
It is a matter of fact that apart from tapping into private FM stations to disseminate AIR news, the I&B Ministry is also raising its budget for advertising government schemes. This would naturally mean that a ‘carrot and stick’ policy could further be advanced. Therefore, as India prepares for the 2019 elections, the advertising budget of the Ministry for news advertisements will go up by about 20% this year. Isn’t this another way to create a ‘Shining India’ campaign in the broadcast news services and in newspapers through advertisements? Isn’t it a fact that the present government cut down advertisements to select small and medium newspapers after the Narendra Modi government assumed office? Many newspapers, in fact, closed down. And now comes the new policy, which is basically a ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ deal.
While the autonomy of Prasar Bharti has already been in question within the organisation for quite some time, the hiring, firing and transferring of non-pliable newspersons is already well-known. The way pressures were exercised for black-out attempts of opposition viewpoints on the Rafale controversy is also a fact, as per insiders.
Pressures on the mainstream national media and on websites are also well-known for the past few years. The attempt now is to get more and more government news in AIR, too, along with the broadcast and print media, to ensure a ‘India Shining’ kind of campaign for the Modi government. (It is a different matter that the campaign in 2004 did not result in the NDA government’s return to power).
So, the stage is set for a new ‘Modi Shining’ project election 2019. Add to this the reports about new roles being assigned to some persons in the Press Information Bureau (PIB). It is known that the PIB in the Emergency days got the nickname ‘Police Information Bureau’. Wait and watch, 2019 has just begun….
(The writer is a senior journalist. The views are personal.)