New Delhi: India's public broadcaster Prasar Bharati that runs Doordarshan and All India Radio has now become the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) voice after signing up an exclusive contract with its news agency Hindustan Samachar.
Prasar Bharati has cancelled its subscription with the Press Trust of India (PTI), India's largest professional news agency, on which DD and AIR depended for their nationwide coverage.
How Doordarshan & AIR ended association with PTI & UNI
Doordarshan and AIR have a own set of correspondents in the national and state capitals, but both depended on the bulk of its news coverage from Press Trust of India (PTI) and United News of India (UNI), accepting all these years as the dependable news coverage from across the country and abroad.
Hindustan Samachar was providing its wire services to Prasar Bharati free of cost since 2017 on an "evaluation basis" that led to them to enter into a formal agreement on February 9, 2023, under which Hindustan Samachar will get nearly Rs 7.7 crore from Prasar Bharati for two years ending in March 2025.
Contract with Hindustan Samachar
The contract says that Hindustan Samachar will have to provide at least 100 news stories every day to Prasar Bharati, including a minimum of 10 national news stories and 40 ‘local stories” in regional languages.
The Wire news channel says the Prasar Bharati's contract with Hindustan amachar was preceded by the Modi government's bitter run-ins with PTI and UNI news agencies over the last few year. Though the government's order to terminate the services of both the conventional news agencies back in 2017, citing "unreasonable" subscription fees, their final end came early this month after the Hindustan Samachar became the exclusive news agency, catering news to Doordarshan and AIR. The Prasar Bharati was paying Rs 9 crore to PTI and Rs 6.75 crore to UNI.
Hindustan Samachar, a multi-lingual news agency, was founded in 1948 by Shivram Shankar Apte, a senior RSS pracharak and co-founder of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad along with RSS ideologue M.S. Golwalkar. Ever since the Modi government came to power, Hindustan Samachar has been a regular beneficiary of government advertisements and has been reported to have plans to shift its small office in Jhandewalan near the RSS’s Delhi office to a bigger one in Noida.
News in “nationalist” perspective
Hindustan Samachar, which has a declared mission of presenting news from a “nationalist” perspective, was forced to shut shop in 1986 after a financial crisis. However, it was revived by the RSS in 2002 during the prime ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Since 2014, the Modi government has had major and minor problems with the PTI’s independent news coverage. However, matters came to a head when in 2020, a senior Prasar Bharati official Samir Kumar had written to PTI’s chief marketing officer that the news agency’s “recent news coverage” on the Ladakh standoff was detrimental to “national interest” and undermined “India’s territorial integrity”. The letter added: “It is also mentioned that the PTI had…been time and again alerted by the Public Broadcaster on editorial lapses resulting in dissemination of wrong news harming public interest.”
The government was also irked by PTI’s interviews with the Chinese ambassador to India and the Indian ambassador to China. “PTI’s anti-national reporting makes it no longer tenable to continue [the] relationship,” a Prasar Bharati official told reporters at the time. The government felt that while the Chinese ambassador shouldn’t have been interviewed in the first place, the Indian ambassador Vikram Misri’s comments in the PTI’s interview on Chinese intrusions caused much embarrassment in South Block as they contradicted the prime minister’s claim that no Indian territory had been compromised.
The move to remove PTI as the primary news agency and replace it with the little-known Hindustan Samachar is not only a move to directly influence the public broadcaster to get positive media coverage but also rebuild a saffron-tinted news agency that has been struggling to survive. To choose Hindustan Samachar over PTI – which has the largest network of reporters and photographers in the country –indicates the government may also be planning to resuscitate private right-wing media agencies.
The UNI news agency may collapse as it was banking on the Prasar Bharati subscription largely to pay the salaries across the country. It has not paid the salaries for more than one year and it were pressing for a hike in the subscription rates.
Modi government was unhappy with both PTI and UNI
The Wire claimed the Modi government was unhappy with both PTI and UNI providing only "slanted" news feeds while it wanted a news agency that shows the government only in a positive light.
In a series of tweets, former Union information and broadcasting minister and Congress MP Manish Tewari had claimed that Prasar Bharati was under pressure from the Narendra Modi government to remove PTI and UNI and induct Hindustan Samachar as the primary news agency for its broadcasting.
In 2016, The Wire reported that the Modi government had lobbied with the PTI board to choose its handpicked nominee as the editor-in-chief of the news agency after M.K. Razdan stepped down. However, the board ignored the government’s efforts and appointed veteran journalist Vijay Joshi as the PTI’s editorial head.
In October 2020, Prasar Bharati finally cancelled its PTI subscription and informed the news agency that it has “decided to call for fresh proposals for a digital subscription to English text and related multimedia services from all domestic news agencies”. PTI, however, never received the so-called proposals.