Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 with a thumping majority, the media, especially western media, has been looking for an excuse to claim that his popularity has declined. Repeatedly, there have been opinion pieces claiming that he is no longer as popular as he was in 2014, hoping that their constant agenda-pushing bears fruit. This time, the same narrative was subtly peddled by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which is the national broadcaster of the United Kingdom.
On the 23rd of July, BBC published an article that spoke about the revenue that is being earned by Doordarshan by broadcasting ‘Mann Ki Baat’, the monthly address by Prime Minister Modi.
In the report, BBC started off by detailing the revenue that is earned by the broadcasting of the show and the lack of expenditure in producing the how. The details were based on the response by Minister Anurag Thakur in the parliament to a question posed by NCP leader Fouzia Khan.
To the questions posed by Khan, Thakur had replied that there is no additional expenditure in producing the Mann Ki Baat episodes since all the existing infrastructure of Prasar Bharti is sufficient to produce the show. Even as far as the staff is concerned, Prasar Bharti only uses its in-house staff for the production of the Mann Ki Baat episodes and therefore, there is no additional expenditure incurred.
On the question of revenue, Thakur gave a breakdown of the numbers right from the year 2014-2015. Essentially, the revenue from Mann Ki Baat (earned in terms of advertisements) amounted to 1.16 cr. In 2015-16, revenue amounted to 2.81 and in 2016-17 it amounted to 5.14 cr. The revenue peaked in 2017-18 to Rs 10.64 cr. However, subsequently, the revenue started dropping. In 2018-19, the revenue came down to Rs 7.47 cr, Rs 2.56 cr in 2019-20 and Rs 1.02 cr in 2020-21.
How BBC tried to spin this as ‘decline in PM Modi’s popularity’
While the entire report of BBC was based on the response by Minister Anurag Thakur, towards the end of the report, BBC slyly tried to peddle their agenda, using Jawhar Sircar to insinuate that this meant that PM Modi was losing popularity amongst the masses.
BBC mentions that Mann Ki Baat was started when Jawhar Sircar was the CEO of Prasar Bharti between 2012 to 2016 (the show started in October 2014). They also mention that he is seen as an “Modi critic”.
Further, they quote Sircar to claim the following:
1. “There is a direct correlation between advertisements and viewership. Some episodes of Mann Ki Baat had a negative reaction on social media and the number of listeners to the show has decreased. Obviously, Advertisers invest their money only when they think their word will reach as many people as possible.”
2. “When after the telecast of this program, there was a lot of uproar on social media once or twice, it was seen that the things said against the Prime Minister were more than what was said in his support.”
3. “It can be difficult to accurately analyze radio listenership, but advertisers can analyze people’s reactions to social media.”
These three statements give a window into what BBC was trying to through the statements of Jawhar Sircar.
The BBC, while not saying it themselves, have quoted Sircar to allude to the fact that Prime Minister’s popularity is on the decline and that can be reflected in the revenue being earned through Mann Ki Baat. When Sircar says that the criticism that his program gets far outweighs the praise, that insinuation is rather hard to miss. It is pertinent to note that he has essentially based this on his hunch and his own visceral hate for PM Modi.
He himself admits that there is no way to accurately judge the kind of listenership a program gets when it is primarily meant for the radio audience. However, he goes on to insinuate that the fall in revenue is due to the fall in PM Modi’s popularity.
While there is no evidence to prove that there is a fall in PM Modi’s popularity just going by the revenue, since the listenership is difficult to measure, even if one assumes that Sircar is on-point about his analysis, he ends up busting several narratives against the Prime Minister that have been peddled by the Left.
It is known that Mann Ki Baat is a project that is extremely close to PM Modi’s heart. The fact that this show itself seems to be market driven, which is to say that revenue could have been affected by market forces such as an ongoing pandemic where corporates are cutting their expenses, proves beyond doubt that the propaganda about PM Modi somehow being hands in gloves with corporates is a hoax.
If we are to assume that corporates have stopped advertising in Mann Ki Baat because the listenership has declined owing to either the pandemic or even a fall in his popularity, the Left is at the very least admitting that the narrative that they have often peddled, of corporates being forced to please Modi by going out of their way, falls flat.
The problem here is that the Left wants to peddle the narrative of corporates catapulting to please PM Modi and at the same time, they want to claim that the corporates have stopped advertising in Mann Ki Baat because of market driven forces or his fall in popularity.
If Sircar is indeed correct and Industrialists have stopped advertising because PM Modi’s popularity is on the rise, then it stands to reason that they are not really under pressure to please the PM at all, since if they were, they would have advertised regardless of market forces or a fall in his popularity.
The response of Prasar Bharti
Shashi Shekhar Vempati, CEO of Prasar Bharti, was approached by the BBC for its report on ‘Mann ki Baat’. Clearly, Vempati was not impressed with the line of questioning by the reporter. He said in his response, “It is troubling that your queries have viewed such a program of national importance and global relevance through the narrow prism of revenue generation when the objective of the program is not commercial revenues but citizen engagement.”
He stated, “In the entire series of more than Seventy Five Episodes of ‘Mann Ki Baat’, there is not a single instance of the program being used for political purposes. Every episode of ‘Mann Ki Baat’ has been Citizen-centric with several questions and comments of citizens on issues of public interest being taken up by the Hon’ble Prime Minister. In fact, over the past year, when the entire planet has been battling the pandemic, the Prime Minister has actively engaged with frontline health-workers and others at the forefront of this effort to overcome COVID-19 through ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on important issues of global significance such as mass awareness of COVID-19 precautions as well as on countering Vaccine Hesitancy.”
“It is surprising that a media organisation such as the BBC has not appreciated this important aspect of social messaging through ‘Mann Ki Baat as a platform while being overly focused on commercial advertising on ‘Mann Ki Baat’,” added the CEO.
Vempati proceeded to add, “The universal vales celebrated by ‘Mann Ki Baat’ and its ethos of ‘sustainable development’ for greater global good ought to be a subject of greater interest to a global broadcaster like BBC than this fallacious line of thought on linking commercial revenues of the Indian Public Broadcaster to the mass appeal Of the national movement that ‘Mann Ki Baat’ has become over the past several years.”
BBC and Sircar’s past shenanigans
The BBC, of course, has a history of agenda driven journalism against the Prime Minister and the NDA Government. During the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, the BBC had published a shoddy piece of research to claim that nationalism was driving fake news in India.
It was forced to withdraw the report after OpIndia, in a series of reports, exposed the numerous flaws in it. Other than that, the BBC has a history of peddling political agenda under the garb of journalism.
Jawhar Sircar, himself, was the CEO of Prasar Bharti in the past and under him, Doordarshan had removed parts of Narendra Modi’s interview that was inconvenient to the Congress party. Following a public backlash, the then Prasar Bharti CEO had acknowledged that chunks of the interview were edited out for failing to get a ‘balancing interview’ with rival political leaders despite best attempts by DD News.
On other occasions, Sircar has shared photoshopped images of the Prime Minister to cast aspersions on him.