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Scrap I&B? Yes, hmm, no

New Delhi, June 7: Information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar today agreed with an interviewer that “philosophically and ideologically”, he would be willing to make his own ministry redundant but tempered his stand later.

In an interview to Karan Thapar on Headlines Today for the programme Nothing But The Truth, Javadekar said he would restructure Prasar Bharati to grant the organisation editorial freedom, internal control over personnel and parliamentary accountability on the lines of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

Thapar asked Javadekar whether he meant that three or four years down the line, he would like to ensure that the ministry ceases to exist. “Philosophically or ideologically, I’ll be willing to do that,” Javadekar said, adding that in the coming years, phrases like “government-run”, “government-controlled” or “government intervention” will be heard less and less.

Thapar asked Javadekar whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also philosophically and ideologically in agreement with his line of thinking. “Absolutely,” Javadekar replied, adding that the Prime Minister always said less government and more governance.

Just before the change of regime at the Centre, Javadekar’s predecessor in the ministry, Manish Tewari, had also said the ministry belonged to a past era.

The new minister said that the government was keen to ensure that DD News and AIR News would have full freedom to cover anything deemed fit and the ministry would not in any way interfere with appointments, transfers or promotions in DD or AIR.

His comments came against the backdrop of concerns expressed by Jawhar Sircar, the chief executive officer of Prasar Bharati, that government interference in its operations casts a “shadow” over the organisation.

During the elections, Modi had given DD News an interview that was reportedly “censored” by officials. The BJP had alleged that the portions in which Modi had referred to Priyanka Gandhi and senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel were “deliberately cut”.

Javadekar also said he believed there was no need for an I&B ministry in a democracy.

Later, Javadekar clarified to The Telegraph that neither would the ministry be totally done away with nor Prasar Bharati made completely “autonomous”.

“The idea is to make it (Prasar Bharati) accountable to Parliament but it can happen through the channel of the ministry only. We are holding a meeting with senior officials on the subject on Monday and it will be decided how to go about it,” he said.

In the interview to Thapar, Javadekar said: “There is no question of more repeats of the way Mr. Narendra Modi’s interview was treated by Doordarshan. Doordarshan and AIR would be free to interview any political leader they want, ask whatever questions they deem fit and handle the content of the interview in whatever professional way they want.”

Referring to FM radio, Javadekar said he would move quickly to grant permission to start news broadcasts. This will happen before the end of 2014, he said, adding that FM stations can either run AIR/Doordarshan news bulletins or take their news content from PTI and UNI, two news agencies.

At this stage, he was reluctant to give FM radio stations permission to set up their own news operations with correspondents.

According to him, some are small community stations and if they, because of inexperience, go wrong or carry false reports, it will have damaging repercussions. However, he did not rule out giving FM radio stations permission later to run their own news bulletins.

The minister said he had only said he would hold consultations with stakeholders on the question of more foreign direct investment in news media, clarifying that he has not made any commitment yet.

“Personally, I am against 100 per cent FDI in news media because I don’t think a dominant foreign hand in this sensitive area would enhance India’s interests. However, personally speaking, I am willing to consider an increase to 49 per cent,” Javadekar said.