(The article is a part of Debate. Please refer to the Counter-point link mentioned below)
'Anti National Media Houses', 'Anti National Journalists' was all understood! How could the Center use the public broadcaster, Prasar Bharati, to term a prestigious News Agency Press Trust of India (PTI) 'anti-national' and threaten to cancel its subscription? The development came just a day after the agency contradicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion that no one has intruded in Galwan valley, by quoting the Indian ambassador in Beijing as saying that Chinese troops needed to move back to their side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
Though neither ambassador Vikram Misri nor the Ministry of External Affairs has denied the accuracy of PTI’s tweet nearly 24 hours later, Misri’s quote has embarrassed the government because it runs counter to what the prime minister said to the all-party meeting held last week on the border standoff. A second news flash from PTI quoted Misri saying “China has to stop the practice of transgressing and trying to erect structures on the Indian side of the LAC”. This too ran counter to Modi’s claim that China had not intruded earlier.
It would seem that a modus vivendi of sorts between the MEA and PTI prevailed after the version of the interview put out by the news agency on Saturday evening fortuitously made no reference to these particular statements by Misri. Nevertheless, the ruling establishment, already upset with PTI for earlier interviewing the Chinese ambassador, appears to have decided to shoot the messenger.
Further knowing that PTI interviews are in best traditions of credible, balanced, and ethical journalism, it remains to wonder that how Prasar Bharati could threat PTI? Isn't it a blatant attack on the freedom of the press amounting to arm twist and blackmail the news agency, that ethically sounds unacceptable? The threat also came at a time when PTI’s coverage of recent developments on Indo-China border was allegedly seen by the government to be allegedly detrimental to national interest and undermined India’s territorial integrity.
While stating that Misri’s statement in the interview had contradicted what Modi told the all-party meeting, that no outsider was inside Indian territory in Ladakh nor had any border post of the Indian Army been captured during the clashes with Chinese troops, it is to note taht in the best traditions of the credible, balanced, and ethical journalism, the PTI carried the interviews of both the Chinese and Indian Ambassadors to give their versions to the people.”
The public broadcaster instead of appreciating the balanced coverage chose to threaten the news agency as its reportage did not conform to the narrative of the ruling establishment, undermining its autonomy and independence. Is Prasar Bharati becoming the arm of the ruling establishment and serving its partisan interests instead of serving the public good? It appeares to desist from such threats and retain its independence by serving the cause of the right to information of the people.
Meanwhile, the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) and Press Association have also criticised Prasar Bharati and the Centre’s role in the entire episode. “It is ironic that the government has chosen to crackdown on a venerable institution like the PTI, hours after marking the 45th anniversary of the Emergency when the press was heavily censored,” they said. Expressing deep concern over the threat issued by Prasar Bharati to review its subscription of PTI, the two groups said the fact is PTI was only doing its professional duty.
They reasoned that at a time when the Chinese have intruded into Indian territory, it is the job of the journalist to ask the other side, in this case a representative of the Chinese government, why this is happening. Moreover, the IWPC and Press Association said the interview brought out the fact from the Chinese ambassador that there had been some casualties on the LAC. Expressing solidarity with PTI, they stand with all those who believe that a free press is an integral part both of the Constitution as well as the idea of India. The PBNS is a recently launched wing of Prasar Bharati and does not have much of a footprint even on the public broadcaster’s website except for an authenticated Twitter handle. Multiple questions this newspaper had sent to Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati on Saturday and Sunday had not elicited any response till Sunday night.
It is ironic that the government has chosen to crack down on a venerable institution like the PTI, hours after marking the 45th anniversary of the Emergency when the press was heavily censored. Further, by describing PTI’s recent news coverage as being detrimental to national interest and undermining India’s territorial integrity, it seems the authorities have failed to appreciate the meaning of a free, objective and unbiased media which is the touchstone of a democracy.