Now that the national public broadcaster Prasar Bharati has ended its subscription with news agencies Press Trust of India (PTI) and United News of India (UNI), the proposal for the broadcaster to start its own news service is likely to be revived.
The Narendra Modi government is known to be quite precise in the message it wants to convey and there have been occasions when it felt that the news agencies, particularly the PTI, were not able to do the needful. To reduce reliance on PTI, the government had envisaged its own news agency – the Prasar Bharati News Service (PBNS) – and even prepared a proposal. PBNS made its debut on Twitter on April 2019 as a “Digital News Service of India’s Public Broadcaster - Breaking Alerts, Digests & curated Developing Stories from across the Globe”.
Sources in the government claim that the endeavour was to launch a full-fledged news agency, utilising the available huge network of Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) that respectively includes 700 and 400 reporters across the country. “For some administrative and bureaucratic reasons, the proposal has been stuck. Now that PTI and UNI are formally out, the proposal of news agency under Prasar Bharati will be revived,” reveals a senior government official.
Prasar Bharati had earlier threatened to end its subscription with the PTI in June over the news agency's interview with China's ambassador to India, who said India was the aggressor in the Galwan Valley battle. In a letter to PTI, Prasar Bharati had accused it of undermining India’s “territorial integrity” by dispensing news that is “detrimental to national interest”.
By having its own agency, the government feels it might be easier to manage the narrative, especially at the global level too, with several international media organisations trying to create a negative perception about the Modi government.
About ending the contract with PTI and UNI, the government says it is to rationalise subscriptions and their rates. The contracts with both the agencies had ended in 2006 and were continuing in an ad-hoc manner, according to the government. It has been decided to call for fresh proposals “for a digital subscription to English text and related multimedia services from all domestic news agencies”, says the official. “Both PTI and UNI can also participate,” he adds.
Sources say that Prasar Bharati had been paying PTI Rs 9.15 crore annually since 2013 for its subscription for Doordarshan and All India Radio. However, it had been holding back about 25 per cent since 2017, as it wanted to renegotiate the costs but no agreement could be reached.