A short, anecdotal history of DD-AIR censorship

BY SEVANTI NINAN| IN Media Practice | 17/08/2017
Sometimes brave, usually timid, the nervous broadcaster’s saga of what to carry or not carry, spans decades and several governments.
SEVANTI NINAN trawls its past history
Tripura CM Manik Sarkar

 

Doordarshan’s decision to hold back Tripura CM Manik Sarkar’s speech, recorded by DD a few days earlier for telecast on August 15,   reminds one of an anecdote  involving DD and an earlier CPM chief minister Jyoti Basu.  After Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister in 1985 he decided Doordarshan was  fuddy duddy and timid,  and needed professionalizing. It also needed to become more credible. He then handpicked Bhaskar Ghose –a West Bengal cadre IAS officer—in 1986 as  Director General to  head it as part of an exercise which became known as ‘Operation Credibility.’ 

Ghose was fond of recounting a single statement which Doordarshan carried in a current affairs programme made by a private producer, which represented the zenith of independence on Doordarshan in those days. On it Jyoti Basu  had said dryly at one point, “Why should I tell lies, I am not a Congressman.” DD left that sentence in, and felt terribly brave about it. It was an era termed as DD’s glastnost. but  even as the broadcaster began to spread its wings the experiment ended abruptly two years later with the DG losing his job. Elections were drawing near and the ruling party lost its stomach for a public broadcaster that took its own decisions.

All India Radio and  Doordarshan’s saga of what to carry or not carry, spans decades.  Doordarshan was created after the Emergency was declared in 1975, as a separate entity for television from AIR. Its personnel learned lessons on censorship and propaganda very quickly . Sanjay Gandhi and his five point programme had to be promoted, Jai Prakash Narain was to be blacked out, the only films to be shown on Doordarshan were those of film stars who had supported the Emergency.  When a huge opposition rally was held just before the 1977 elections addressed by opposition leaders,  Doordarshan telecast the film “Bobby”, hoping people would stay at home and watch it.  But huge crowds attended the rally anyway.

News on DD has always been a problematic proposition.  In practice, news involving top leaders, and the Government of India and state governments has to be  confirmed by the government before  the official media can broadcast it.  You don’t tell people that the Prime Minister has been assassinated because it might undermine the State.

When Jawaharlal Nehru suffered a 6 am heart attack  and lost consciousness on May 27th AIR kept mum till his death was officially announced at 2.25 pm. When his daughter Indira was assassinated around 9.30 am in 1984, the news was not aired by AIR till 5.57 pm. As everybody now knows, Rajiv Gandhi learned of his mother’s death on the BBC. 

When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991, DD did not interrupt a programme on birds to announce his death because by then, he was not the Prime Minister, he was a mere opposition leader! I remember asking an information service officer at that time, and being told as much.  You did not have scrolls in those days to run below the programming!

You don’t show that the Babri Masjid has fallen because it could spark riots.

But sometimes the holding back became ludicrous. As in December 1985 when there was a gas leak in Delhi and people were fleeing their homes,  but AIR did not put out the news of the leak till two and a half hours later  because it was waiting to confirm the leak.

For DD and AIR it does not matter which government is in power, and it does not matter if you also end up holding up telecast of a debate in parliament, because you do not want the government to look bad.

In May 2002, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then  prime minister was replying to a censure motion in parliament, and lambasting the media for its role in Gujarat, the debate  was not carried live by DD. Parliament did not have its own channels then. It was shown instead on the terrestrial TV network’s low power transmitter which covers a range of 10 km around Parliament House. There was no recorded telecast later either, though Star News showed the highlights of the debate after it was over.  Two explanations  were offered by Doordarshan, one, that it could not afford to lose revenue by carrying the debate at prime time, and two, that it had not received a request from parliament to telecast the debate live. 

By August 2004, after a journalist was bluntly critical of  the BJP leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra on the programme, the NDA government decided that a 7.30 am discussion on the day’s news which went live on AIR's  FM channel daily, should stop being live and be recorded before hand. 

In early May 2014,just before the elections,  there was the famous instance of DD being accused of censoring candidate narendra modi’s interview on Doordarshan in which he said that Priyanka Gandhi was like his daughter. DD had said at that time that there were no cuts, but that the interview given while walking on a lawn, and required a lot of  post-production!

And now we have Manik Sarkar. Pretty much his entire speech was an attack on the Central Government, with a reference to the BJP’s allegedly inglorious record during the struggle for independence.  A much greater provocation then, than what Bhaskar Ghose had to deal with way back in 1986, from Jyoti Basu!

 

References

 

Broadcasting in India, PC Chatterji, Sage, 1987

Through the Magic Window, Sevanti Ninan, Penguin, 1995

http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/mag/2002/08/25/stories/2002082500170300.htm

http://www.livemint.com/Politics/BpfJDSeVh6Q3585cxW35dN/Doordarshans-censor-of-Narendra-Modi-interview-fuels-disp.html

 

 

 

 

 

The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring. Your support is vital for this website. Click here to make a contribution.
Subscribe To The Newsletter
The back story of the huge apology notice published by the Hindustan Times on September 18 (see this Hoot brief) is to be found in the record of sittings of the Privileges Committee of the Lok Sabha. The apology was published three days after the last sitting to which the editor of HT was summoned. The notice given by  Andhra Pradesh MP Jithender Reddy was taken up five times by the Committee  between July end and September 15. This too has fed into the wide ranging speculation over the reason for the resignation of the current editor of the paper, Aparisim Ghosh.                       

Did it really take the Hindustan Times almost six months to figure out that it had got the figures on the attendance  in Parliament of certain MPs, wrong? Or is there more to why it carried a front page apology covering half the page on September 18? It said, "In the edition of March 24, 2017, we had, because of a technical glitch, erroneously reported the attendance in Parliament of certain MPs. Below are the accurate figures. Hindustan Times offers an unconditional apology, and deeply regrets any offence or inconvenience caused." Of the seven MPs whom it said had 100 per cent attendance  not one had it, the paper listed six other names for this statistic. And the list of those whom it said had the worst attendance in Parliament is headed by Abhijeet Mukherjee, the former President's son, who in fact has a figure of 97 per cent attendance.                                    

View More

The Washington Post  is rolling out Talk  a new commenting system that will allow the paper to better engage with readers who comment on its stories and help promote civil conversations. The software was developed by the Coral Project, a collaboration between The Post, the NYT and Mozilla, funded by a grant from the  Knight Foundation. The Post will integrate Talk with ModBot, its AI-powered comment moderation technology.                                                                         

Propublica has built a  Facebook bot which is a tiny computer program that automatically converses with you over Facebook Messenger to determine you experiences with reporting hate speech on Facebook. Its says its objective is to learn more about Facebook’s secret censorship rules and what the social media determines is hate speech. (Nieman Lab)                                       
View More