A day after Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s office said his Independence Day address was not aired by Doordarshan and All India Radio, which wanted him to “reshape” it, The Indian Express has learnt that Prasar Bharati, which runs Doordarshan and AIR, did convey to Sarkar on August 15 morning what he shouldn’t say in his speech.
Part of Sarkar’s unaired speech targeted the BJP — he heads a Left Front government in the state.
Without naming any political party or organisation, Sarkar’s speech mentioned that the “spirit of secularism is under attack” and “conspiracies and attempts are under way to create an undesirable complexity and divisions in our society; to invade our national consciousness in the name of religion, caste and community, by inciting passions to convert India into a particular religion country and in the name of protecting the cow”. Read | Doordarshan, AIR blacked out my Independence Day speech, told me reshape it: Tripura CM Manik Sarkar
The speech also referred to minorities and Dalits being “under severe attack” and how “their sense of security is being shattered”. Prasar Bharati was asked by its officials in Tripura to suggest what to do, and its senior officials in Delhi decided that the Chief Minister’s speech was against the Broadcast Code.
On the evening of August 14, Doordarshan and All India Radio had recorded Sarkar’s speech. U K Sahoo, Doordarshan’s protocol officer who was present during the recording, told The Indian Express that after the recording, he was asked by the Chief Minister to “maintain the quality and content” of his speech.
Sahoo felt that the speech was controversial, but Sarkar’s words meant he could not edit it. He spoke to officials at Doordarshan’s directorate in New Delhi who asked him to send across the text of the speech. Similar to Doordarshan, the text of Sarkar’s speech was also sent to All India Radio’s headquarters in New Delhi.
At the AIR headquarters, a committee of four senior officers pondered on the contents of the speech. AIR Director General Fayyaz Sheheryar consulted Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati on what should be done. Read the Manik Sarkar speech that did not pass the AIR test
The committee and Vempati decided that the speech did not adhere to the Broadcast Code, and told their office in Agartala that the Chief Minister will need to “reshape the content” of his speech, otherwise the “broadcast may not go with its existing content”, keeping in view the “sanctity and solemnity” of Independence Day.
Senior officials at Prasar Bharati maintained that the public broadcaster never asks “suo motu” for speeches of Chief Ministers. Sanjiv Dosajh, Assistant Director of Programmes (Policy) at AIR, who emailed AIR’s Agartala office about the committee’s decision, told The Indian Express that when the station director finds some content “objectionable”, the speech is sent to the directorate in Delhi.
Dosajh said in the past too, CMs have been advised to “modify” some speeches, to which they agreed — he cited no example. “This time,” Dosajh said of Sarkar, “he was very firm he would not change (it)”.
He said the committee found a few “instances” in Sarkar’s speech which were not “very positive”, keeping in mind the occasion. He said the AIR broadcast code says “speech should not be hostile” which, the committee felt, was the case with Sarkar’s speech.
But the AIR and Doordarshan’s Broadcast Code does not mention “hostile speech” at all. It says that no content should be aired that criticises friendly countries, attacks any religion or community, is obscene or defamatory, incites violence or goes against law and order, amounts to contempt of court, casts aspersions against the integrity of the President or judiciary, or can affect the integrity of the country and criticises any person by name.
On receiving the response from their directorates, both Doordarshan and AIR informed the Tripura Chief Minister’s office about the decision. Sahoo said he had emailed the Chief Minister’s staff on the evening of August 14, but did not receive a response. Editorial | Censoring Manik Sarkar
The next morning, between 9 am and 9.30 am, when both the Governor’s and the Chief Minister’s speeches were to be broadcast, only the Governor’s speech was aired. In a press statement Wednesday, Doordarshan said that it did cover Sarkar’s Independence Day-related events, including another speech he made on August 15.
The CPI(M) criticised the government for not airing Sarkar’s speech. Party general secretary Sitaram Yechury, at a press conference, said the Prime Minister or the Chief Ministers have the right to speak. “If they have said anything objectionable, they will be questioned in Parliament or in state legislatures. What the Chief Minister would have said in his address, that would have been questioned on the floor of the Tripura Assembly. You cannot pre-emptively censor him.”
Calling it worse than the Emergency days, he said what Prasar Bharati has done is “reminiscent not only of the Emergency of Indira Gandhi… when there was censorship of a very high level… this has gone further than that and worse than that.”
Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, told reporters: “With each passing day, it has become very hard for the Opposition parties to make their voice reach the people of the country. This type of censorship has been seen by no country in the world. This is shameful for this government. Why don’t they declare Emergency straightaway for the news censorship of the media, so that at least we will have some solace, we will have some sort of satisfaction: OK, nothing can come because there is Emergency, nothing comes because this is prohibited.”
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