The Election Commission (EC) allots telecast and broadcast time to political parties for carrying out their election campaign on Doordarshan and All India Radio during elections. I had submitted my speech to Doordarshan for vetting sufficiently in advance. It was only when I reached the office to record my speech that I was told that a paragraph of the speech referring to the nexus between the RSS and the NDA would have to be revised, apparently because it was “criticism based on unverified allegations”. As this censoring of speech is against the basic tenets of democracy, I decided not to record my speech.
According to the order passed by the EC while allotting broadcast time to political parties on Doordarshan, the following should be avoided in speeches: criticism of other countries; attack on religions/communities; anything obscene or defamatory; incitement of violence; aspersions against the President or the judiciary; anything amounting to contempt of court; anything affecting the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the country; and criticism by names of persons. It is clear that the paragraph that was deemed objectionable was not covered under any of these grounds, nor was it based on unverified allegations — it is a fact that the ideological parent of the NDA is the RSS. It is also well documented that the RSS drew its basic ideology from fascist regimes. My intention was to show that the exclusionary actions of the NDA are based on its ideological roots.
Section 12(2)(b) of the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act, 1990 puts the onus on the broadcaster to safeguard citizens’ right to be informed freely, truthfully and objectively on all matters of public interest, and to present a fair and balanced flow of information including contrasting views without advocating any opinion or ideology of its own. It is not enough to claim that the committee that reviewed the speech is an independent body; it must also be seen to be impartial.
This is not the first time that Doordarshan has been informed of its biased approach in favour of the ruling regime. In April, the EC took note of its disproportionate coverage of different political parties. For a month after elections were announced, the BJP got 160 hours of coverage; the Congress, 60 hours; and the CPI(M), eight. Doordarshan has already flouted a guideline of the EC which states that it should provide fair and balanced coverage of campaigning. The EC told Doordarshan to “desist from extending any preferential or disproportionate airtime coverage in favour of any party” and sought a reply for acting “not in accordance with the principle of maintaining neutrality and level-playing field”. The EC is tasked with ensuring a level playing field for all parties. One hopes that it will take note of this violation of the freedom to talk about issues plaguing the country.―The Hindu