New Delhi: India’s public broadcaster Prasar Bharati will now entirely rely on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed news agency Hindusthan Samachar for its daily news feed. On February 14, 2023, Prasar Bharati, which runs Doordarshan and All India Radio, signed an exclusive contract with Hindusthan Samachar – a decision which came some two years after it cancelled its subscription with the Press Trust of India (PTI), India’s largest and oldest professional news agency.
Hindusthan Samachar has been providing its wire services to Prasar Bharati free of cost since 2017 on an “evaluation basis”. However, the two parties entered into a formal agreement in which Prasar Bharati will pay nearly Rs 7.7 crore to Hindusthan Samachar for a period of two years ending in March 2025. The contract says that Hindusthan Samachar will have to provide at least 100 news stories every day to Prasar Bharati, including a minimum of 10 national news stories and 40 ‘local stories” in regional languages.
PTI has more than 600 staff journalists and some 800 stringers across India. It provides to its subscribers about 1,000 stories a day across all topics. Earlier this month, PTI launched a video service that streams more than 100 live events a day and more than 200 raw video packages, which marks PTI out as a challenger to ANI, another news agency favoured by the Modi government.
Hindusthan Samachar, a multi-lingual news agency, was founded in 1948 by Shivram Shankar Apte, a senior RSS pracharak and co-founder of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad along with RSS ideologue M.S. Golwalkar. Ever since the Modi government came to power, Hindusthan Samachar has been a regular beneficiary of government advertisements and has been reported to have plans to shift its small office in Jhandewalan near the RSS’s Delhi office to a bigger one in Noida
Prasar Bharati’s latest move to induct Hindusthan Samachar formally was preceded by the Narendra Modi government’s bitter run-ins with news agencies PTI and United News of India (UNI) over the last few years. According to sources in Prasar Bharati, the government had instructed the public broadcaster to terminate the services of these news agencies in 2017, citing “unreasonable” subscription fees. The Wire had reported in 2017 that the agencies were being paid Rs 15.75 crore annually, nearly 9 crore of which was PTI’s fees.
However, the sources also implied that the Modi government believed both PTI and UNI provided only “slanted” news feeds and that it wanted a news agency that shows the government only in a positive light.
In a series of tweets that year, former Union information and broadcasting minister and Congress leader Manish Tewari had claimed that Prasar Bharati was under pressure from the Narendra Modi government to remove PTI and UNI and induct Hindusthan Samachar as the primary news agency for its broadcasting.
In 2016, The Wire reported that the Modi government had lobbied with the PTI board to choose its handpicked nominee as the editor-in-chief of the news agency after its veteran editor, M.K. Razdan, stepped down. However, the board ignored the government’s efforts and appointed the highly regarded Associated Press journalist Vijay Joshi as the PTI’s editorial head.
In 2017, a former I&B secretary told The Wire that PTI and Prasar Bharati had not been on good terms after the latter was forced to move out of the PTI building in central Delhi.
“The replacement plan has been on the cards for some time now. Prasar Bharati was located in the PTI building in New Delhi. Not only was PTI charging exorbitant rent for its space, it also had very high subscription rates. Prasar Bharati was forced to vacate the building consequently. The government may now see this as an opportunity to remove PTI and UNI and bring in one of their agencies,” the former secretary told The Wire then.
In October 2020, Prasar Bharati finally cancelled its PTI subscription and informed the news agency that it has “decided to call for fresh proposals for a digital subscription to English text and related multimedia services from all domestic news agencies”.
Since 2014, the Modi government has had major and minor problems with the PTI’s independent news coverage. However, matters came to a head when in 2020, a senior Prasar Bharati official, Samir Kumar, had written to PTI’s chief marketing officer that the news agency’s “recent news coverage” on the Ladakh standoff was detrimental to “national interest” and undermined “India’s territorial integrity”. The letter added: “It is also mentioned that the PTI had…been time and again alerted by the Public Broadcaster on editorial lapses resulting in dissemination of wrong news harming public interest.”
The government was majorly irked by PTI’s interviews with the Chinese ambassador to India and the Indian ambassador to China in 2020, in the wake of the border standoff in Ladakh. The government felt that while the Chinese ambassador shouldn’t have been interviewed in the first place, the Indian ambassador Vikram Misri’s comments in the PTI’s interview on Chinese intrusions caused much embarrassment in South Block as they contradicted the prime minister’s claim that no Indian territory had been compromised.
“PTI’s anti-national reporting makes it no longer tenable to continue [the] relationship,” an unnamed Prasar Bharati official told reporters at the time.
The move to remove PTI as the primary news agency and replace it with the little-known Hindusthan Samachar is not only aimed at directly ensuring the public broadcaster provides positive media coverage of the government – which it does, anyway – but also to weaken PTI and boost a saffron-tinted news agency that has been struggling to survive. To choose Hindusthan Samachar over PTI – which has the largest network of reporters and photographers in the country –indicates the government may also be planning to give a broader leg up to private right-wing media outlets.
Hindusthan Samachar, which has a declared mission of presenting news from a “nationalist” perspective, was forced to shut shop in 1986 after a financial crisis. However, it was revived by the RSS in 2002 during A.B. Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister.
Note: This article has been updated with a paragraph on PTI’s work.