On the 1st of September, propaganda outlet Newslaundry published an article that essentially said that the Modi government could not ‘capture’ PTI and hence, it launched PBNS. Alleging that the Modi government had a ‘hunger for publicity’, it alleged that just at the start of the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus, FM Gold became a 24-hour news station to satisfy the Modi govt’s urge for publicity and the change cost 80 casual employees their jobs.
The article said, “The actual motivation wasn’t as mundane, however. There are multiple threads linking FM Gold’s sudden transformation to the spat between Prasar Bharati, the state broadcaster, and the news agency Press Trust of India; the formation of the Prasar Bharati News Service last year; and the Narendra Modi government’s excessive love for publicity”.
The article essentially insinuates that since the Modi government could not influence PTI and Prasar Bharati had an ‘open spat’ with PTI, the Modi government turned FM Gold into a news channel and launched PBNS so he could have a hold on the ‘publicity’ he so craved.
The entire article was laden with lies and unsubstantiated insinuations.
Here are 12 lies that The Newslaundry furthered in their desperation to malign the Modi government.
Claim 1: FM Gold became a news station on March 25, the same day India went into lockdown. As a consequence, 80 casual employees lost their jobs almost overnight.
Casual assignees are not employees of All India Radio/Prasar Bharati. They are part-time freelancers who are engaged on a need basis only and are referred to as Casual Assignees. They are paid for the number of assignments done by them. Since their services are utilized for specific assignments on a need basis, there is no employer-employee relationship between them and All India Radio. They are free to accept employment in other public and private organizations of their choice or pursue any other business or profession. Such persons can be teachers, managers, engineers, doctors, lawyers or entrepreneurs and can yet contribute to All India Radio as casual assignees in their spare time.
Several casual assignees continue to receive payments from All India Radio for assignments completed as may have been assigned to them during the lockdown period and till date. There is no further entitlement for casual assignees to receive payments from All India Radio outside of assignments.
This lie is not unique to Newslaundry and has not been spread for the first time. In April 2020, Indian Express and The Hindu had spread the same fake news. There were two articles published, one in The Hindu and the other in the Indian Express that had spread fake news at a time the nation is dealing with a pandemic. The articles aimed to target Prasar Bharati, India’s Public Service Broadcaster, and allege that the channel had fired its employees amidst the Coronavirus pandemic despite the directive from the Prime Minister about retaining employees through the lockdown period. At that time, OpIndia had debunked these misplaced assertions.
Claim 2: FM Gold became a news station on March 25, the same day India went into lockdown. The rationale provided by AIR for this drastic move was that in a pandemic people needed information more than they did entertainment.
Under the Prasar Bharati act, the following mandate is given:
“The Corporation shall, in the discharge of its functions, be guided by the following objectives – safeguarding the citizen’s right to be informed freely, truthfully and objectively on all matters of public interest, national or international, and presenting a fair and balanced flow of information including contrasting views without advocating any opinion or ideology of its own.”
Speaking to OpIndia, sources from AIR said that in all cities where AIR operates, out of 3 Radio frequencies in the FM mode, 2 frequencies have been dedicated to entertainment (Vividh Bharati, FM Rainbow), and one frequency has been dedicated to news and current affairs.
Claim 3: There are multiple threads linking FM Gold’s sudden transformation to the spat between Prasar Bharati, the state broadcaster, and the news agency Press Trust of India; the formation of the Prasar Bharati News Service last year, and the Narendra Modi govt’s excessive love for publicity.
While Newslaundry has conveniently tied PBNS and FM Gold, the truth is that PBNS is a Digital News Service of India’s Public Broadcaster which broadcasts Breaking Alerts, digests and curated developing stories from across the Globe. It has no connection with FM Gold.
Claim 4: The PBNS has to fulfil its mandate of reducing Prasar Bharati’s annual budget by ending the broadcaster’s reliance on PTI and UNI.
Newslaundry in its article craftily tries to insinuate that the PBNS was started solely for the purpose of reducing Prasar Bhart’s reliance on PTI. However, that is not the case and nothing that has been done goes beyond the purview of the mandate given in the act.
According to the Prasar Bharati Act, “the Corporation (Prasar Bharati) may take such steps as it thinks fit to establish a system for the gathering of news for radio and television”.
PBNS is an effort towards the same; it has nothing to do with FM Gold.
Claim 5: In March 2018, FM Gold was robbed of its 106.4 MHz frequency
Newslaundry insinuates that AIR “robbed” FM GOLD of its 106.4 frequency, to insinuate that it was “stripped for its identity” because it wanted to ensure that the entertainment channel was turned into a news channel.
OpIndia reached out to the people in the know within AIR. Speaking on the issue, AIR said, “to achieve one nation, one frequency for FM Gold across the country, its 106.4 MHz frequency was swapped with that of Vividh Bharati 101.4 MHz. Vividh Bharati was given 106.4 MHz”.
Claim 6: FM Gold was handed over to AIR news division. Now it airs news bulletins all day long, as also Modi’s speeches, government ads and repeated programmes.
While Newslaundry seems to allege that Prasar Bharati stripped FM GOLD of its identity, it seems that the author of the article had not read the Prasar Bharati Act that clearly states what the aim of any division of the PB is.
The public service mandate as specified in Prasar Bharati Act, “it shall be the primary duty of the Corporation (Prasar Bharati) to organise and conduct public broadcasting services to inform, educate and entertain the public and to ensure a balanced development of broadcasting on radio and television.”
It would thus appear that FM GOLD is doing exactly what the Prasar Bharati Act mandates it to do, but Newslaundry seems to have a problem because it is conforming to the law and not their agenda.
Claim 7: Running Modi’s old speeches and repeating programmes became necessary after the firing of the 80 employees brought the production operations to a near halt.
OpIndia found that FM Gold’s operations have continued uninterrupted with more than 12 Hours of daily fresh news and current affairs programmes. Interestingly, in this claim also, Newslaundry repeats the lie of Prasar Bharati firing 80 employees that have long been debunked.
Claim 8: The news broadcasts on FM Gold are heavily skewed towards Modi’s government and party.
OpIndia spoke to people in the know from Prasar Bharati. They said, “News broadcasts on FM Gold are not unique to FM Gold, they are produced by news services division of All India Radio, and are carried throughout the network of All India Radio in multiple modes, such as local FM (FM Gold etc.), mediumwave analogue and digital, Satellite Radio (DD FreeDish DTH), Internet streaming (NewsOnAir and YouTube)”.
Claim 9: Prasar Bharati had ordered all its employees over 35 years of age to be rescreened and reinstituted.
Speaking to OpIndia, sources from Prasar Bharati sad that no such order had been passed and they have no idea where Newslaundry was getting its information from.
Claim 10: Prasar Bharati News Service, an ambitious project of the Modi government. Bureaucrats and journalists aligned with the BJP advised the government to start its own news agency using Prasar Bharati.
Newslaundry claims that PBNS was started solely because the Modi government wanted a channel they could control and further the agenda of the Modi government. It also claims that journalists aligned with the BJP advised the government to do so using Prasar Bharati. Firstly, it is hard to imagine Newslaundry having any sort of access to private conversations even if they did take place. Given the track record of the publication, it is not unthinkable that they would make this claim up entirely.
Further, they have proven yet again that they have failed to do their due diligence and read the Prasar Bharati Act. The Act says, “the Corporation (Prasar Bharati) may take such steps as it thinks fit to establish a system for the gathering of news for radio and television”.
PBNS seems to fulfil the mandate as mentioned in the Prasar Bharati Act itself and the assertions by Newslaundry, as usual, ring hollow and reek of propaganda.
Claim 11: In 2017, Prasar Bharati decided to stop subscribing to PTI and UNI in favour of Hindusthan Samachar, a news agency backed by the RSS. The truth is, Prasar Bharati had already been using the services of Hindusthan Samachar, offered by it free of cost. In the end though, given the uproar the news had generated, Prasar Bharati didn’t subscribe to Hindusthan Samachar.
PTI has been receiving huge fees from the public broadcaster, the fees are said to be in crores and it has been going on for decades. Reportedly, Prasar Bharati pays PTI over RS. 9 crores annually, which is in addition to the amount paid by PIB. In fact, currently, Prasar Bharati pays PTI approximately 9.15 crores, OpIndia has leant.
In an article OpIndia had done back in June 2020, we had explored that since 2016-2017, Prasar Bharati has been trying to rationalise the amount paid to PTI as it does not think that the service provided by PTI is worth more than Rs. 2.5 crores. In 2017-18, Prasar Bharati had rationalised the amount paid to PTI and unilaterally reduced the amount paid to PTI by about 25%. However, sources had confirmed that it is just the tip of the iceberg and there is a long way to go before the fees are rationalised to Rs. 2.5 crores.
The assertion by Newslaundry that Prasar Bharati has stopped subscribing to PTI and UNI is a pure lie. Further, Newslaundry saying that Prasar Bharati does not subscribe to Hindusthan Samachar after “hue and cry” is also a lie.
Truth is, Prasar Bharati continues to subscribe to PTI, UNI and Hindusthan Samachar.
Speaking to OpIndia, a source said, “These are purely commercial arrangements and Prasar Bharati reserves the right to review these commercial arrangements based on their usefulness and its needs from time to time”.
Claim 12: When the PBNS started its operation, Kumar became its CEO.
Hilariously, Newslaundry says, “Here’s where it gets rather shady. Back when Prasar Bharati was considering going with Hindusthan Samachar, the news agency’s CEO, Sameer Kumar, was involved in the decisionmaking. When the PBNS started its operation, Kumar became its CEO”.
There are so many contradictions in this article, that it makes the head spin.
Firstly, earlier in the article, Newslaundry had clearly said that after the outrage, Prasar Bharati had not signed a contract with Hindusthan Samachar. Though it was not true and Prasar Bharati does have contact with them, for Newslaundry to later claim, in the same article, that the CEO of Hindusthan Samachar became to “CEO of PBNS” due to this contract, it is rather amusing.
Further, PBNS is an internal unit of Prasar Bharati. It doesn’t have a CEO. The CEO of Prasar Bharati is Shashi Shekhar Vempati and Samir Kumar is the head of PBNS, not the CEO.
Aside from these glaring contradictions, Newslaundry seems to be terribly inept at simple research.
Prasar Bharati got into a contract with Hindusthan Samachar in February 2020. However, Samir Kumar quit Hindusthan Samachar as their CEO in February 2019, according to his LinkedIn profile and became the PBNS head in March 2019.
What Newslaundry essentially wants to say is this: Prasar Bharati did not get into a contract with Hindusthan Samachar because their content was substandard, however, when the talks were going on with Hindusthan Samachar, Samir Kumar was a part of the discussion. Then, when PBNS was launched, he became the CEO of PBNS, and even though Prasar Bharati had no contract with Hindusthan Samachar, this job change by Samir Kumar indicates impropriety.
However, facts do not support their argument. The contract between Prasar Bharati and Hindusthan Samachar happened only in February 2020. To insinuate that Samir Kumar became PBNS head in March 2019 due to some sort of a quid pro quo is ridiculous in itself.
But why let facts come in the way of propaganda.
It is interesting to note that Newslaundry has published a propaganda piece, laden with lies against Prasar Bharati only after it decided to rationalise its payments to PTI. PTI had recently gone rogue and touted the China propaganda during the stand-off between India and China.
PTI had come under great criticism recently after an interview with Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong. During the interview, the Chinese ambassador blamed India for the clash between the two countries at Galwan Valley. Journalists of other agencies were outraged by the fact that the PTI did not bother to counter-question the Chinese ambassador on his dubious claims. People have also pointed out that the ‘interview’ came across as a press released by the Chinese Communist Party rather than a genuine interview.
By peddling the Chinese propaganda and going rogue as far as its content is concerned, PTI stands to lose the crores that it earns from the public broadcaster.
Prasar Bharati is India’s largest public broadcasting agency. It is a statutory autonomous body set up by an Act of Parliament and comprises the Doordarshan Television Network and All India Radio, which were earlier media units of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
With Prasar Bharati being a public broadcaster, it is obvious that such blatant anti-India propaganda which goes against the government of India and its stand in sensitive issues like the China conflict will not sit well.
It is only after this fiasco has Newslaundry sprung into action to further their lies and propaganda perhaps at the behest of PTI that stands to lose crores that it makes from Prasar Bharati.