Prasar Bharati Corporation, India’s public service broadcaster, has sparked a row by inviting Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley to address the public on the occasion of Sardar Patel Memorial Lecture.
The topic of the address, “Is it possible to impose reasonable restrictions on Freedom of Speech and Expression given today’s media landscape.”
The annual lecture, which started in 1995, is hosted by All India Radio as a mark of respect to Patel, India’s first Information and Broadcasting Minister.
C. Rajagopalachari was the first one to deliver the address. Other speakers have included Zakir Hussain, Morarji Desai and former president the late Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
But the decision to invite Jaitley represents a break from the past.
Previously, ministers from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry were consciously kept away from addressing the occasion.
Condemning the decision, Manish Tewari, former Information and Broadcasting minister, said that Jaitley’s decision to speak is a breach of an unwritten convention in the Ministry which is to keep the Prasar Bharati Corporation at arm’s length.
It is reported that ministers in the past – Jaipal Reddy, Ambika Soni and Tewari – had maintained a distance from addressing on the occasion.
Further, taking a jibe at the government, Tewari said that the choice of the subject is indicative of the extreme pressure the government is under and becomes obvious when Ministers and party spokespersons blame the media for everything.
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“As if getting their nose punched by the judiciary on the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill was not enough; perhaps the government requires a kick on their posterior from the media to sober them up further. They need to understand that the assault on institutions must cease,” he added.
The CEO of the Prasar Bharati Corporation, Jawhar Sircar, in whose name the invite went out, has not issued any comment. The Hindu says that he will be away in Istanbul for a broadcasters’ meet at the time.