Free Press Journal

Modi questions press freedom, Tewari denies govt involvement


New Delhi:  The debate over press freedom came full circle Saturday with Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari refuting allegations that he had any role to play in editing Narendra Modi’s Doordarshan interview, even as the BJP leader compared the controversy to the media repression witnessed during the Emergency.

The information and broadcasting ministry has an arm’s length relationship with Prasar Bharati and the public broadcaster’s autonomy is guaranteed by an Act of parliament, Tewari told media persons here.

“My attention has been drawn to news reports which have appeared in the press. I have stated earlier and allow me to attribute and reiterate that the autonomy of Prasar Bharati is guaranteed by an Act of parliament. It is an organisation run by a board and the ministry has an arm’s length relationship with it,” Tewari said.

His clarification was preceded by a sharp attack by BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Modi, who took to a social networking website to express his “sadness” at the lack of “professional freedom” in Doordarshan.

“On days such as this, I feel very sad to see our national TV channel struggling to maintain its professional freedom,” Modi tweeted.

In another tweet, he said: “We have witnessed the horrors of Emergency when freedom of press and freedom of expression were suppressed. It is a blot on our democracy.”

The controversy gained momentum after media reports alleged that Doordarshan edited out portions from Modi’s recent interview to the state-run broadcaster where he had said Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was like a “daughter”.

Priyanka Gandhi, daughter of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, retorted by saying she was only “Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter”.

The government drew strong criticism for allegedly influencing the editing, after Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar acknowledged in a letter May 2 that certain portions of Modi’s interview to Doordarshan “were apparently edited”.

Sircar also pointed a finger at Tewari in the letter for failing to grant the public broadcaster “operational autonomy” that it has been seeking for years.

Tewari denied any involvement, pointing out that it was only at his initiative that the Sam Pitroda committee was constituted to examine and look into the government’s relations with Prasar Bharati.

“It was I who had suggested that the relations between Prasar Bharati and the government should be same as the finance ministry has with the Comptroller and Auditor General and its budget should be appropriated through the Consolidated Fund of India rather than routed through the ministry,” he said.