DD and AIR Forced Opposition Leaders to Remove ‘Muslims’, ‘Communal Authoritarian Regime’ From Speeches

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The Opposition leaders had to drop these words from their speeches made on the public broadcaster in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.

Two leaders from the Opposition, Sitaram Yechury and G Devarajan were asked to drop the terms “communal authoritarian regime” and “draconian laws” and the word “Muslims” from their speeches made on All India Radio and Doordarshan during the broadcast time allocated to them in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections.

While CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury had to delete the two terms and replace the word “bankruptcy” of the governance with “failure” during his televised address in the Doordarshan studio in the national capital, All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) leader G Devarajan was asked to avoid the word “Muslims” in his address recorded in Kolkata, reported Indian Express.

When asked about it, an official in Prasar Bharati said both Doordarshan and All India Radio follow the “conduct rules” given by the Election Commission of India (ECI). “But it happens with most leaders. There were instances in which even the chief ministers’ texts were corrected,” the official said.

The guidelines require speakers to refrain from criticism of other countries, attack on religions or communities, incitement of violence or anything amounting to contempt of court, aspersions on the integrity of the President and judiciary, criticism by name of any person, anything affecting the unity, sovereignty and integrity of the nation, and anything obscene or defamatory.

Under the ECI’s orders issued in April, representatives of national parties and state parties are allotted telecast and broadcast time on Doordarshan and AIR in the run up to the election. The directive said “six national parties and 59 state parties” were eligible for the telecast and broadcast facility under the provisions of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.

When contacted, Yechury told The Indian Express, “Strangely, they did not find anything wrong in the Hindi version of my address which was just a translation of the original English one. But the English version was modified according to their suggestion under protest.”

Devarajan, on his part, said, “I had a line referring to the discriminatory clauses in the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in my address. They told me the word Muslim has to be removed. I argued I need to use the word to emphasize the point that it is discriminatory to Muslims as the law mentions every other minority community eligible for citizenship. But I was not allowed.”

In his original speech, Devarajan said, “Policies such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) have been criticised for their discriminatory impact on Muslims, thereby undermining the secular fabric of the nation.” But he had to later replace Muslims with the phrase “particular community”.

The addresses of the two leaders in English, from which the terms and words were deleted, were telecast on April 16 on Doordarshan.

Yechury was also asked to delete the references to electoral bonds. “The censorship applied to the text of my address on Doordarshan (same text given to All India Radio) is a patent denial of the right to dissent in a democracy. Terms like ‘communal authoritarian regime’ and ‘draconian laws’ have been directed to be deleted from the text,” Yechury said in a letter to Director General, Doordarshan.

“In a parliamentary democracy every party has the right to express its opinion on the character and nature of governance. The deletion of the word ‘bankruptcy’ of governance and the suggestion to replace it with ‘failure’ only endorses the authoritarian character of the government,” he wrote.

In his letter, he argued that the deletions concerning the electoral bonds were “to whitewash the entire operation.” “The deletions concerning the electoral bonds are to whitewash the entire operation like what is now deleted, ‘large-scale money laundering with many firms donating multiple times the profits shown in their balance sheet’. All these details have already appeared in the mainstream media and are part of the public discourse. These deletions are an attempt to project the incumbent government in a favourable manner,” he said.

Yechury’s request to the DG, Doordarshan, to reconsider the suggested deletions was not accepted.

The ECI order of April first week was issued under section 39 (A) of the Representation of People’s Act, inserted through an amendment in 2003. It says: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, the Election Commission shall, on the basis of the past performance of a recognised political party, during elections, allocate equitable sharing of time on the cable television network and other electronic media in such manner as may be prescribed to display or propagate any election matter or to address public in connection with an election.” Under the same section, the Central government had notified all such broadcasting media that are owned or controlled or financed wholly or substantially by funds provided to them by the centre to provide equitable time for all the national and state parties.

According to the poll panel, national parties get a minimum of 10 hours of telecasting time on the National channel of Doordarshan, along with a minimum of 15 hours on Regional Doordarshan Kendras and AIR Stations. State-based parties will be allotted a total of 30 hours of telecast time on Regional DD Kendras and AIR Stations. For All India Radio (AIR), “a total of not less than 10 hours of broadcasting time on the National hookup of the All India Radio for broadcasts by the National Parties” along with 15 hours of broadcasting time on the regional Air Stations, for broadcasts by the National Parties.

For National Parties, 45 minutes will be allocated to each party on the national channel of DD and AIR. The remaining time will be divided among the National Parties based on the percentage of votes polled in the 2019 elections.

The speakers are expected to submit the written text 3-4 days before recording, and the speeches have to be approved by the concerned authorities in the respective AIR stations.

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