Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge on Friday alleged that the Modi government was “pressurising and intimidating” the media so that it does not write against it and cited the instance of two senior employees of a news television channel who were told to quit after doing a reality check programme on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claims.
The allegations were rebutted by Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore, who said the first news aired by the channel was wrong but no show-cause notice was issued and it was the opposition’s habit to blame the government for everything.
“There is right to speak, right to write. Article 19 gives the right to freedom of expression. But it is very regrettable that there have been several instances of ban on the media. Especially, when the media has gone against the government or has done a reality check, there is an attempt to intimidate them, muzzle them,” Kharge told the Lok Sabha during Zero Hour.
“I will give you one example. Two days back, two senior functionaries of ABP News channel were asked to resign. Milind Khandekar, who was Managing Editor and who had been working with the channel for 14 years, and (an anchor), they were also working. The only mistake was that the anchor sent the reporter to do a reality check of what Modi had said in his Mann ki Baat” radio programme, Kharge said. Another anchor was asked to go on leave.
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said the matter related to a private channel and asked whether he had the facts and figures. The treasury members objected to Kharge’s remarks.
Kharge said Modi had spoken to a woman who said her income had doubled. “But when the reporter asked, the women said it was wrong and she had been asked by government officials to say so,” he said.
Kharge was referring to a news report that quoted the sarpanch from Chhattisgarh’s Kanharpuri as saying that Chandramani, the woman farmer, who interacted with Modi, had been tutored by a team from the Agriculture Department from New Delhi.
Modi had interacted with farmers from different parts of the country on June 20.
Kharge said the intense pressure was exerted on the three people as also the channel. In the end, the management “axed the two employees. There was an attempt to silence them”.
Giving a second example of intimidation of a national television channel, Kharge said: “In the Central Hall also, a senior MP challenged the media that if you do not go by our thinking, we will close your channel, and they did it.
“National TV they got closed for 24 hours,” the Congress leader said.
“If there is no freedom of speech, where can we talk? We can only place this before you. If you want to close the channel, pressurise the press and those who want to write against your thinking, it is not a good thing. Those who are following such ideology, it is wrong. Those who are acting against the Constitution, it is wrong. The attempt that is being made to curb fundamental rights, this should not happen,” he said.
Rathore dismissed the Congress leader’s charge and said: “We see a trend in the country that when the opposition does not find an issue, they hold the government responsible for anything.
“The channel he is referring to, its first story (on the issue) was wrong but the government did not issue a show-cause notice. The channel runs on Free Dish (Prasar Bharti-owned free to air digital direct satellite service). Free Dish gets maximum TRP,” Rathore said.
“It is owned by the government and their channel is running on it without any interruption,” he said.
“If the government wanted to interfere, it would have done so on Free Dish. The government has nothing to do with it,” the Minister said.
Rathore also said the TRP of the channel Kharge was referring to “has been falling because people do not want to watch it”.
“He is putting the blame on the government. This is the what the opposition is trying to do in the country.”