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Govt seeks explanation from AIR over criticism on Yakub Memon case

MUMBAI: Even as the government was pulling up private news channels over their coverage of the Yakub Memon case, the public broadcaster All India Radio (AIR) has fallen into trouble for its criticism of the government’s stance on issuing notices to the news channels.

The government has now sought an explanation from the director general of AIR news for broadcasting a story that reported on the Editors Guild’s criticism of notices to three TV channels, states the Economic Times.

Sources at Prasar Bharti and the Ministry for Information & Broadcasting (MIB) told ET that AIR director general (news) Mohan Chandak was pulled up by MIB officials on Tuesday as well as Wednesday for clearing four news items the government found unsuitable, including the Guild’s criticism of the government’s action against the channels.

AIR’s coverage of Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh’s criticism of the Centre’s peace deal with Naga insurgents, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s reference to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s advice to then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi on Rajdharma, and criticism by Kumar and Lalu Yadav of Modi’s speech last week in Gaya has also reportedly displeased the centre.

The report further adds that two AIR editors could face action soon over the reports, which were part of hourly news bulletins in Hindi and English on Sunday and Monday.

Last week, the government had issued notices to three TV channels namely NDTV 24×7, Aaj Tak and ABP News for their coverage of the controversy surrounding the hanging of Yakub Memon.

According to officials, Chandak has been asked to give an explanation and the ministry is now mulling action against the team that cleared the news items.

“This is negligence. We have asked them to respond with facts and details on how they choose to present some issues over others,” an MIB official told ET.

Ministry officials further stated that they were disappointed with the way AIR was presenting news as it was often biased and critical of the central government.

The AIR news on Sunday morning had reported the Editors Guild’s comments on the show-cause notices issued to the TV channels. It said the Guild had called the move “shocking and had called for immediate withdrawal of notices”.

The Guild has said that cable TV regulations were never meant to stop free and vigorous discussion of matters of public interest however disagreeable the content might be to the government. On Sunday, as part of its hourly news at 8 am, AIR also carried a news item on Nitish Kumar’s speech in which he mentioned former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee reminding the then Gujarat CM Modi of his Rajdharma in the context of the 2002 riots. The broadcaster had also reported Nitish Kumar’s comments on Modi, including one alleging that the Centre was ignoring Bihar.

The other AIR news items that have upset the ministry were a 15-second report on how the Manipur CM Ibobi Singh, along with his counterparts in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, had protested over not being consulted in the Naga peace process by the Centre, and Nitish Kumar voicing displeasure over the appointment of senior BJP leader Ram Nath Kovind as Governor of Bihar.