The government gives the impression of working for the dismemberment of the Press Trust of India (PTI), India’s premier news agency which has established a name for itself for being a professional news establishment. A demolition exercise of such magnitude has been undertaken through its proxy, Prasar Bharati.
PTI is as old as independent India and through its existence has been a no -profit company on whose Board sit representatives of the country’s leading independent (private) news organisations. It has maintained a conscious balance in its news coverage. As such, it enjoys credibility as a leading media outfit that serves newspapers and other news organisations in the far- flung corners of India who are unable to post correspondents around the country and the world.
Prasar Bharati, on the other hand, has failed to live up to its mandate of being India’s public service broadcaster, the mandate given to it by the Act of Parliament through which it was created in 1997. It has become a lackey of the Union government, though it is technically autonomous and, as such, controls AIR and Doordarshan.
In the matter that has given the government the excuse to move against PTI, the premier news behaved like a fully professional news platform in interviewing China’s ambassador in New Delhi recently. In doing so, it scooped all in the media. The interview yielded valuable information at a time of heightened tension between India and China.
For its pains, PB has accused PTI of acting to the “detriment” of “national interest”. This is preposterous, and unacceptable. A bureaucratic outfit has arrogated to itself the right to define the “national interest” and pass judgments on what constitutes news, mimicking features of a dictatorship.
PB has done this by issuing a letter to PTI through an outfit called Prasar Bharati News Service or PBNS, which no one has heard of. We may rest assured this is an incipient move to employ for propaganda- dissemination purposes large numbers of individuals to serve the interests of the government and its political affiliates, with the PB footing the bill through PBNS.
For some years, the government has given the impression of wanting to take over PTI by employing hand-picked individuals to head it. But these efforts have been stymied by the PTI Board. The present government move may be seen as being in pursuit of an earlier design.
The PBNS has as good as said it will end its subscription to PTI. This is a move meant to cripple PTI financially. The PTI Board is called upon to take stock of the situation urgently and initiate steps to preserve the PTI’s character.
While the so-called PBNS is in the process of being developed and made functional, the government may well encourage or coerce smaller private news organisations to become a poor imitation of the PTI to serve the government’s interests alone, rather than the public interest.
Citing unhappiness with the interview of China’s ambassador by PB appears to be a convenient trick being used by the government, employing PB as front.
The Press Club of India is aghast at these machinations. Such carefully calibrated moves strike at the very notion of media freedoms and seek to choke the working of a free press.
The present government is widely seen by the community of journalists as being keen on exerting total control over the media. As such, individual journalists and news organisations have been sought to be penalized to bring the media as a whole in line. The move against PTI seems a step to control medium and small news organisations throughout the country which are fed by PTI news feeds- all in the name of “nationalism”! This has emerged as part of a pattern that we deplore.
Anand K Sahay