The Prasar Bharati has finally terminated its arrangement with the Press Trust of India (PTI). Earlier, it was announced that the government of India institution will be reviewing its arrangement with the PTI following its interview with the Chinese Ambassador wherein the news agency was accused of providing a platform for the Chinese to run their propaganda.
In a letter to PTI, which has been accessed by OpIndia, Prasar Bharati has said Prasar Bharati was availing of subscription of PTI on an ad-hoc, pro-rata basis since the year 2006 after the formal contract between Prasar Bharati and PTI had expired. On the 23rd of April 2019, a “fresh communication to provide viable pricing based on discussed parameters” was also sent to PTI owing to the discussion between the two organisations.
The letter further says that Prasar Bharati has decided to call for fresh proposals for a digital subscription to English text and in that, PTI may also participate. Thus, it makes it clear that since April 2019, PTI had not provided a fresh proposal for viable pricing and if they do want to continue their arrangement with Prasar Bharati, in the fresh round of proposals, PTI will have to offer competitive prices.
What led to the decision of Prasar Bharati to end its association with PTI
The Prasar Bharati board had long taken the decision to rationalize Prasar Bharati’s expenditure towards News Agencies. Prasar Bharati incurs annual expenditure of 20 Crores towards the subscription to various news agencies and a substantial amount of that was being paid to PTI. It is interesting to note that PTI used to get crores from the Prasar Bharati ever since its inception. Currently, Prasar Bharati was paying PTI approximately 9.15 crores, OpIndia has leant.
Further, sources from Prasar Bharati have confirmed to OpIndia that since 2016-2017, Prasar Bharati is 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.
It is since 2014 that Prasar Bharati was trying to rationalise the expenditure it incurs towards news agencies.
It is learnt by OpIndia that in November 2019 it was recommended by the committee of officers’ to terminate services of UNI and it was further recommended that this can be affected from 1st April 2020. However, this was kept on hold in view of the hardship and adverse economic circumstances arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sources have also told us that a strong letter was written to PTI in June of 2020 indicating a review of the need to continue Prasar Bharati’s relationship with PTI on account of serious editorial lapses on the part of PTI, the diminished usefulness of PTI services to Prasar Bharati and the rigid stance taken by PTI on the pricing issue. It is to be remembered that PTI had done an interview with the Chinese Ambassador after the Galwan conflict where the agency had basically furthered Chinese propaganda and thereafter, they were sent a strong letter by Prasar Bharati.
OpIndia was informed that Prasar Bharati news units of Doordarshan and All India Radio decided to eliminate any residual dependency on PTI and UNI since they believed that both agencies were not of much utility and also owing to their refusal to resolve the pricing issue which has persisted since 2006 when the last formal contract with PTI lapsed.
To this end, Prasar Bharati also decided to accelerate the development of their IT platform where PBNS could start the work of news dissemination and also utilise the vast network of stringers and part-time correspondents.
Prasar Bharati finally decided that since for the past 14 years, no formal contract has existed between Prasar Bharati and PTI, UNI, the existing arrangement with these news agencies would be terminated.
Interestingly, Prasar Bharati believes that termination the arrangement with PTI and UNI would save Rs 10 crores expenditure annually.
Prasar Bharati displeased with PTI interview with Chinese Ambassador
Sources within Prasar Bharati had stated that the ‘anti-national’ coverage of the PTI does not make it feasible for it to carry forward the relationship. People had pointed out that the ‘interview‘ appeared as a press release by the Chinese Communist Party in the wake of the ongoing conflict between India and China at the Line of Actual Control.
Sun Weidong placed the entire blame of the clash at Galwan valley at the feet of the Indian Government and yet, the PTI did not bother to counter the claim with actual facts from the ground in any manner. He claimed that “Indian side violated the consensus and started provocation which led to escalation of the situation.”
In the same ‘interview’, Weidong also claimed that Indian soldiers attacked the Chinese troops which led to the clash. Concurrently, he accused the Indian Government of numerous other violations. Throughout it all, the PTI allowed the Chinese ambassador to peddle his propaganda without making the slightest bit of effort to counter it.
The format of the ‘interview’ also attracted a lot of criticism. There were only three questions that was posed to the Chinese ambassador without any counter-questioning. Therefore, it did end up looking like a press release in the end. Sun Weidong was at complete liberty to oeddle the party line without any fear of being questioned on his dubious claims.
PTI received crores of funds from Prasar Bharati
The PTI has been receiving fees from the public broadcaster for decades, which run into crores. PTI is said to have received nearly Rs. 200 crores since the 1980s in public funding with no public accountability. Prasar Bharati sought greater transparency into how much the PTI charges private organisations in comparison with the public funding that is sought.
PTI confirmed it is a private entity in response to RTI inquiry
It is also pertinent to note that the PTI had submitted to the Central Information Commission, New Delhi a few years ago that it was a private entity and thus, outside the purview of the RTI Act. It was also said that no government institutions are under any obligation to subscribe or pay for the news services offered by PTI. Thus, while some have been crying victim, Prasar Bharati is fully well within its rights to terminate its contract with the news agency.
The CIC report on the matter said, “The PTI in its communication dated 05.10.2012 reiterated that they do not fall under Section 2(h)(ii) of the RTI Act since PTI is a private, nongovernmental organisation which does not receive any funds from either the Central or the State Government in the form of any subsidy or funds. The PTI has further emphasised that it is not even benefited by any direct or indirect finance or funding from any Government agency.”
It added, “As a company incorporated under the Indian Companies Act 1913, the PTI stated that it is not promoted by any agency of the Government but is a ‘notforprofitcompany’, which does not pay dividends to its shareholders who are owners/proprietors of newspapers of all scale. It is categorically specified that neither the Government nor any of its agencies hold any shares in PTI.”
Long History of Fake News by PTI
The PTI has a long history of peddling fake news. Moreover, their fake news always appears to tilt in one direction and has the potential of denting the prospects of only a single political party. Be it the Surgical Strikes or the anti-CAA protests in Uttar Pradesh, fake news peddled by the PTI always hurts the prospect of the Hindutva oriented party.
During Delhi assembly elections this year, PTI 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 2017, Press Trust of India had claimed that the UP government had drastically cut the budgetary allocation for secondary and higher education in the state. In that instant too, they had reported wrong numbers. In the same year, PTI had come out with a news feed which claimed that the former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had planned the 2016 surgical strikes in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir due to an “insulting question” of a TV news anchor, which was completely false.
These were just a few example of fake news by the news agency. They regularly published fake, misleading and slanted reports, which are widely carried by the media houses.