Almost exactly three months back, there was news that public broadcaster Prasar Bharati may cut ties with the news agency PTI especially after PTI provided platform to Chinese ambassador to run their propaganda during the Ladakh standoff. In an interview with the news agency, Sun Weidong placed the entire blame for the Galwan Valley clash at India’s feet without ever being confronted by the PTI over the Chinese propaganda.
Taking a strong position against this, the Prasar Bharati had written to PTI expressing its strong disproval and had said it will review its relationship with it. So much that the public broadcaster had also considered withdrawing financial support it gives which runs into crores.
However, there has been no update about this issue ever since.
This is rather surprising and disappointing given that the government has taken tough stands on issues that are directly or indirectly related to Indo-China border skirmishes. Whether it be banning of Chinese apps or acting against those elements that are perceived to be pro-China such as arrest of a journalist named Rajeev Sharma who was found doing passing off crucial information on army movement and defence acquisitions to the Chinese.
Government or quasi-government bodies are known to take their own sweet time to take decisions, but delaying a decision over a concern that was linked to national security doesn’t bode well. It’s high time Prasar Bharati comes out with a clarification about reasons why the national broadcaster is not talking tough with a news agency that has been wayward way too frequently.
PTI and fake news
PTI has had a longstanding relationship with fake as well as misleading news. In August this year, PTI misquoted PM Modi on coronavirus figures in India. During Delhi assembly elections held earlier this year, the news agency had completely misreported the share of candidates with criminal records from various parties. While AAP had 51% candidates facing serious criminal cases, PTI reported it as only 25%, misquoting a report by Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR). Similarly, they had also changed the numbers for BJP and Congress.
In July last hear, PTI had published a report claiming that finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in parliament that demonetisation has no affect on economy. The finance minister herself had to clarify that she didn’t made any such statement, after several media houses carried the misleading report.
Prasar Bharati and PTI
Prasar Bharati is India’s public broadcasting agency set up by an Act of the Parliament. It comprises of the Doordarshan television network and the All India Radio.
Sources have told OpIndia that since 1980, PTI has received nearly Rs. 200 crores in public funding with no public accountability. In today’s terms, the funding would be equivalent to an investment of Rs. 400 to Rs. 800 crores, depending on the interest rate.
OpIndia has now further learnt that not only PTI has been able to maintain its revenue source in form of fees from Prasar Bharati, shockingly it has been earning this revenue without a proper contract in place. Interestingly, the last contract was signed in 2005 which expired in 2006. Since then, there have been negotiations which have not successfully culminated into formal contracts.
OpIndia has learned that since 2006, PTI services are being availed by Prasar Bharati on ad-hoc basis. The rate revision in 2011 and 2013 was also on ad-hoc basis. Prior to 2011 rate revision, PTI demanded Rs 56 crore as annual subscription fee from Prasar Bharati, sources told OpIndia.
In 2014 the Prasar Bharati Board decided to rationalise PTI fees down to Rs 2 crore. Same was reiterated in letters to PTI in 2019. Correspondences with PTI are management decision by the public broadcaster and administrative department communicates based on management’s instruction. And the final decision on terminating PTI relationship will be a decision of the Board whenever it takes it up, OpIndia has learnt.
To reiterate, there has been no formal contract between Prasar Bharati and PTI since 2006, and even this ad-hoc arrangement has not been stopped after PTI was found indulged in furthering Chinese propaganda and feeding misinformation on various occasions. A warning letter was sent, but the decision is still pending.
OpIndia tried to get official responses but not many were willing to come on record. It indeed is worrying that while even a engineered controversy related to a rather small news channel Sudarshan News becomes a matter in Supreme Court, PTI has been able to get away after being accused of compromising national interests.
Could the old lobby of ‘liberal establishment’ be working to save the PTI and put pressure on Prasar Bharati so that the one critical source of revenue doesn’t dry up?