The blackout by Doordarshan and AIR of the customary Independence Day speech of Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar casts a dark shadow the day after. By all accounts, after a local official raised an objection, the decision not to broadcast the CM’s speech — unless it was “reshaped” — was taken at Prasar Bharati’s Delhi office. In arrogating to itself the powers of a censor over an elected chief minister, the public broadcaster has revived serious questions about its mandate, its degree of autonomy from political-governmental control, and its very relevance in a quick-changing media environment.
There is, to be sure, a broadcasting code that schoolmarmishly sets its face against an array of perceived discourtesies and transgressions, ranging from “criticism of friendly countries” to “anything obscene or defamatory”, to “anything affecting the integrity of the nation”. But that such an imprecise and loosely worded code should be invoked by the public broadcaster to curb the freedom of an elected CM to talk to the people on a day the nation celebrates its freedoms, is outrageous. Related | Did tell Tripura CM Manik Sarkar to reshape his Independence Day speech, Prasar Bharati admits
The speech itself — excerpted today on the Ideas Page – could, at worst, be described as politically charged. Without naming any party or individual, Sarkar spoke of a secularism “under attack”, and of “conspiracies and attempts” to create “divisions in society” that are “contrary to the goals, dreams and ideals of our freedom struggle”. In fact, the chief minister’s speech was no more political than any speech made by any of his counterparts in other states on the day. Read the Manik Sarkar speech that did not pass the AIR test
Despite a 20-year-long career, and reports and recommendations of several committees, the Prasar Bharati is yet to restructure its operations either to respond to the requirements of changing times, or to establish a record of impartiality and fairplay. Successive governments have also been reluctant to give up control over a captive medium. The censorship in Agartala, therefore, immediately invites suspicions about the role of the Central government in the blackout of an Opposition leader. Read | Doordarshan, AIR blacked out my Independence Day speech, told me reshape it: Tripura CM Manik Sarkar
The NDA is particularly vulnerable to these charges, of course. In its three years in power, it has shown a distinctive intolerance of dissent and the political opponent. It has carried this into spaces that must be insulated from the zero-sum games of electoral battle, and that call for political give-and-take. It has taken recourse to the logic of majoritarianism to have its way even in institutions that must be governed by constitutional norms and principles not subject to the numbers game. It is easy to believe that it was NDA diktat that led to the blacking out of Manik Sarkar on DD and AIR in Tripura on I-Day. If it was not, the government must say so.