Why Prasar Bharti is right in asking PTI about its accountability
New Delhi, July 06: Prasar Bharti has said it was reviewing the need for a continued relationship with PTI and a decision in this regard would be conveyed soon.
There have been mixed reactions to this move, but the question that needs to be asked should PTI be made accountable?
In the year 2010, one Anshu Kumar had sought information about PTI under the Right to Information Act. In 2012, Kumar complained to the Central Information Commission about being denied the information. The CIC, however, ruled that PTI was not a public authority and hence did not need to divulge information under the RTI.
However, in 2019, the Supreme Court of India brought trusts, societies and non-governmental organisations that receive government financing under the Right to Information Act. This being said, one must understand that the PTI's building in New Delhi stands on land leased by the government.
Prasar Bharti, on the other hand, has sought to know from PTI about the expenses. The argument is that this would help in assessing how much it should pay. PTI, on the other hand, says it is a private entity and hence does not come under the RTI.
Now coming back to the PTI building it is on Parliament Street which has prime real estate value. The build has had many tenants, including defence firms, which have nothing to do with journalism. The building was leased by the government at a highly subsidised rate for public service.
In 1982, the Second Press Commission report, while dealing with the lease agreement between newspapers and the government said, 'the deed provides that the premises will not be used for any other purposes other than the one for which the land has been allotted to the lessee. No portion of the building can be rented out by the lessee without prior permission of the government. In case it is provided that the premises is ceased to be used for the purpose which they were allotted, the government can re-enter the land and premises without paying any compensation to the lessee or returning any premium paid.'
This clearly indicates that the government is well within its right to question PTI about the rental agreements. The government is well within its rights to re-enter the premises. Better, the government could also rent out the premises and earn a few hundred crores.
In a letter to PTI, Prasar Bharti has said that, the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990, in Section 12 sub-section 2(a)mandates that the Public Broadcaster in the discharge of its functions be guided by the objective of upholding the unity and integrity of the country.
"It has come to the attention of Prasar Bharati that recent news coverage by the Press Trust of India (PTI), which was disseminated widely by PTI to its domestic subscribers and prominently shared with foreign entities, was detrimental to national interest while undermining India's territorial integrity."
"Through the above actions, the PTI has conducted itself in a manner contrary to the values that the Public Broadcaster has been mandated to uphold. The said conduct of PTI has made it no longer tenable for the Public Service Broadcaster to be a patron of PTI as a News Agency."
"It is further mentioned that PTI is substantially supported by the Public Broadcaster through huge annual fees towards subscriptions. Issue of rationalisation of subscription fee has been lingering on for past several years due to rigid attitude of PTI. Despite all out efforts by Prasar Bharati, PTI has failed to detail the huge annual subscription fee which was required by the Prasar Bharati Board to finalise the issue."
It has also been noted that nearly Rs 200 Crores of Public Funding to PTI since 1980 in the form of annual subscription fees with no public accountability. In today's terms, the funding would be equivalent to a public investment value of Rs 400 Crores to Rs 800 Crores depending on the interest rates.
PTI's Board has no Public Representative; All Board Members are from private media organisations. There needs to be transparency on how much PTI is charging private media in comparison to public funds sought.
It may be recalled that the news agency had interviewed Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong. He had accused New Delhi of provoking the violent clash at Galwan Valley on June 15. He said that the onus is on India. The Indian side crossed the Line of Actual Control for provocation and attacked the Chinese border troops, he had also said.
Prasar Bharti has told PTI that its anti-national reporting makes it no longer tenable to continue the relationship.
PTI in a statement said that the central government seems to be working towards the "dismemberment" of the news agency Press Trust of India, after public broadcaster Prasar Bharati threatened to cancel its subscription over its allegedly anti-national coverage.
The government gives the impression of working for the dismemberment of the Press Trust of India (PTI), India's premier news agency which has established a name for itself for being a professional news establishment."