New Delhi: Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari Thursday defended his ministry’s advisory to TV news channels over the “denigration” of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Independence Day speech.
Some channels ran comparisons with the speech made by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion, and showed the two in “competitive” mode, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry held, in an advisory issued to the media, seeking that they maintain the solemnity of national occasions.
The minister maintained that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was committed to protecting the freedom of speech.
Talking to reporters here, Tewari, however, said August 15 and January 26 were important national days that embody the body and soul of the liberation struggle and values which went into making the constitution of India.
“When the prime minister addresses the people (on Independence day), he articulates the voice of 124 crore Indians. He is not speaking as a leader of a political party, but the prime minister of India,” Tewari said.
Modi in his speech sought to punch holes in the prime minister’s Independence Day address to the nation. His speech was shown on several news TV channels.
The advisory issued last month said certain TV channels attempted to denigrade the office of the prime minister by constantly trying to compare his Independence Day address with the speech f other political leaders, and this was “sensational, against all norms of ethical journalism”.
The advisory reminded the channels that they were bound to follow programme and advertising code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.
The advisory asked TV news channels to follow the provisions of the code scrupulously and keep the significance of the solemn days in mind while carrying speeches of the prime minister and the president.
It cautioned that any further violation would attract penal provisions under relevant rules and terms of uplinking and downlinking.
Tewari said there was certain sanctity, gravitas and solemnity to the prime minister’s Independence Day speech: “Advisory is in the nature of advisory. (We) leave it to their wisdom to take our advice,” Tewari added.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley had attacked the government over the advisory, saying it was “unconstitutional censorship order” and was prompted by “Modi-phobia”.
Tewari said, in response, that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government had sought to muzzle news website “Tehelka” after its expose against the then central government.
On opinion polls, the minister said the Congress has been consistent in its stance over the past nine years, and accused the BJP of volte face.
Tewari said the Congress stance on opinion polls came in response to a letter from the Election Commission.
“Our stance is the same as it was in 2004. The shoe is really on the other foot,” he said. The Congress has told the poll panel that opinion polls should be restricted during election time.
To a question about the BJP’s criticism of the United Progressive Alliance government about Modi’s security, Tewari said that the opposition party was doing politics on the issue.
He accused the BJP government in Chhattisgarh of being “directly responsible” for failing to prevent the attack on a Congress convoy in May that led to the decimation of some of its top state leaders.
“The Congress leadership was decimated (in Chhattisgarh). The direct responsibility is of the state government,” he said.
He said the UPA government was sensitive to concerns about security, but no politics should be done on the issue.