Uproar over the release of period drama “Padmavati” and two films not screened at IFFI were some of the issues the Information & Broadcasting Ministry had to deal with in 2017, which also saw several appointments including that of Prasoon Joshi as censor board chief. The ministry was also in the headlines for its advisory on condom advertisements on television.
In a move that surprised many, the Narendra Modi government allocated the I&B portfolio to the then Textile Minister Smriti Irani, who was shifted out of the human resource development ministry only last year in the backdrop of controversies surrounding her educational qualification, Hyderabad University Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide and alleged anti-India slogans at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The portfolio of I&B fell vacant after M Venkaiah Naidu was chosen as the NDA nominee for the vice presidential elections. Irani was the fourth minister to be at the helm of affairs of the important ministry since the Modi government took over in 2014. Prior to Naidu, Arun Jaitley was the information and broadcasting minister, replacing Prakash Javadekar.
The government appointed actor Anupam Kher as the new chief of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He replaced Gajendra Chauhan, who had a controversial tenure as head of the Pune-based institute. The year also saw Pahlaj Nihalani, whose stint as the head of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) was surrounded by controversy, being replaced by noted songwriter-poet Joshi. The ministry reconstituted the existing censor board with actress Vidya Balan being among the new members.
The year saw a full-blown controversy over the film “Padmavati” with Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh joining the chorus against its release. There were widespread protests by Rajput community alleging that the film breached the honour of queen Padmini and distorted facts.
Controversy also erupted after two films “S Durga” and “Nude” were dropped from screening at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) even after the jury recommended that they be shown at the annual event. The censor board ordered a re-examination of Sanal Kumar Sasidharans film “S Durga”, derailing its court-ordered screening at IFFI.
The bone of contention seemed to be the hashtag that follow the letter “S” in the revised title of the movie, which was earlier named “Sexy Durga”. The CBFC said the makers cannot exhibit the film further until the board reexamines it, adding a suitable date and time will be conveyed to the makers soon. The Kerala High Court had directed the I&B ministry to screen the film at IFFI.
The ministry was also in the news for issuing an advisory to all television channels, asking them to restrict airing of condom advertisements to slots between 10 pm and 6 am, triggering a controversy. In an official memorandum, the ministry later said, the advisory only pertained to sexually-explicit content being used to market certain condom brands which titillate the audience from a PR perspective.
The year also saw appointment of actor Anupam Kher as the chairman of the FTII, replacing Gajendra Chauhan, who had a controversial tenure as head of the Pune-based institute. His term had ended in March. Veteran journalist A Surya Prakash was appointed as the chairman of the Prasar Bharati board for a second consecutive term till February 8, 2020, when he turns 70.
Shashi S Vempati, a part-time member of the Prasar Bharati Board, was made the Chief Executive Officer of the public broadcaster, succeeding Rajeev Singh, member (finance) of the board, who was serving as the interim CEO after S C Panda retired earlier this year. New category of visa for foreign filmmakers was also created to ease issues related to their entry into the country.
A separate 24×7 DD channel for Jharkhand was announced during the year. DD Bihar was asked to telecast DD Ranchi programmes till the launch of its own 24×7 channel. In 2017, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) website got a new look with enhanced features while a new portal of DD News was also launched.
The Union Cabinet approved auctioning of more than 680 FM channels in 236 cities, including those in border areas of Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast, where the population is less than one lakh. In December, the ministry ordered an Assamese television channel to go off air for three days and a Gujarati channel for a day for violating the cable television network rules.
Senior Indian Administrative Service officer N K Sinha was appointed as the new secretary in the ministry after the transfer of Ajay Mittal as Secretary, Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).