Angered by Satirical Radio Campaign on Tourist Safety, I&B Ministry Issues Notice

Radio Mirchi accused of broadcasting "defamatory content."

New Delhi: Days after a Swiss couple was brutally attacked by a group of men with sticks and stones at Fatehpur Sikri near Agra, the Times Group’s flagship radio station, Radio Mirchi (98.3 FM), ran a #MatAaoIndia campaign to draw attention to the problem of safety for tourists. It mocked the official tourism campaign and, in that same vein of sarcasm, asked tourists not to come to India.

The campaign ad, which was clearly a satirical spin on the government’s official tourism slogan of ‘Incredible India’, ends with a warning – “Coming to India will be injurious to your health” – that was clearly meant to shame the authorities in Uttar Pradesh and the Centre  into taking their responsibility towards foreign guests more seriously:

Dil dekho, Taj dekho,

Mughlon ka ye bagh dekho, India ka ye itihaas dekho,
Atithi ka saaman dekho, khush hote mehman dekho,

Yeh pehle tha, ab…

Goa ka samundar dekho, touriston ko tang dekho,
Mehmaan apna Russian dekho, uska molestation dekho,
Fatehpur ki shaan dekho, couples hue pareshan dekho,
Pyaar ka samman dekho, naye Bharat ki shaan dekho,
Maut ka moral kaam dekho, atithi ka apmaan dekho.
India aana aapki sehat ke liye haanikarak hai,
Atithi devo nahi #MatAaoIndia.

See the hearts, see the Taj,
See the gardens of the Mughals and the history of India,
See the respect we have for guests, see the happy smiles on their faces.

That was then. And now…

See the sea at Goa, and the tourists being harassed,
See your Russian guest, and her molestation too,
See the splendour of Fatehpur, and the couples being troubled there,
See the respect we have for love, see the splendour of new India
See the morality of  death, see the way we insult guests
Coming to India is injurious to health

Guests are not gods. Do not come to India


Soon after Akash Banerjee, the radio station’s vice president and regional programming head, tweeted the promo onThursday night, right-wing and ‘nationalist’ Twitter handles started targeting him for spearheading an “anti-India campaign”, lodged complaints with the information and broadcasting ministry and the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and demanded that the Times Group either sack Banerjee or be prepared for a boycott of the radio station.

A highly-placed source within the Times group confirmed to The Wire that “the campaign was taken down after facing backlash from the right wing on Twitter”.

Shefali Vaidya, a prominent right wing author and social media influencer, urged her followers to unlike and unfollow Mirchi on social media platforms.

This isn’t the first time Radio Mirchi has dropped a campaign unceremoniously. Earlier this year, the radio station scrapped its popular ‘Mitron’ segment, which satirised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, apparently after complaints from senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.

Show-cause notice issued by I&B ministry

According to a report published in a right-wing propaganda website, the Smriti Irani-led I&B ministry has now issued a show-cause notice against Radio Mirchi calling the content “defamatory and violative of [the] AIR code”. The notice claims that by “discouraging foreign tourists from visiting India” the radio channel has violated All India Radio’s program and advertisement code. The FM station has been asked to respond in 15 days on why they should not be penalised. A source at Radio Mirchi told The Wire that they still haven’t received the notice.

Was the campaign defamatory?

Many on social media claimed that by highlighting some untoward incidents, the FM channel’s main agenda was to defame the country. But if such depictions are to be considered defamatory, many other advertisements – including  multiple ads issued by the government under the ‘Incredible India’ campaign highlighting issues faced by foreigners in India – would fall foul of the code.

Are tourists unsafe in India?

While earlier this month tourism minister K J Alphons claimed that the “stories” of India being unsafe for foreign tourists are “exaggerated”, a reply to an RTI filed by a local activist claimed that 245 foreigners have died in Goa in the last 12 years.

In 2015, 365 crimes against foreigners in India were registered, of which 147 (40%) were in Delhi, followed by Maharashtra (53) and Uttar Pradesh (33), according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data. Of these 365 crimes, 271 were against tourists and the rest against foreigners resident in India. The number of crimes, however, was 25% less than the 486 registered in 2014, reported IndiaSpend.

Dip in number of foreigners visiting Taj Mahal

While there has been a rise in the number of tourists visiting India in the last few years, the Taj Mahal in Agra has seen a fall in the number of visitors. While 7.9 lakh foreign tourists went to see the Taj Mahal in 2012, just 6.36 lakh foreigners visited the monument in 2015. A Times of India report claimed that rising crime against foreign tourists was one main reason for the dip in their numbers.

Tourism and the Indian economy

According to a report released by the World Travel and Tourism Council earlier this year, India’s is the world’s seventh largest tourism economy in terms of GDP. The travel and tourism sector generated Rs 14.1 trillion (USD 208.9 billion) in 2016, which is the world’s seventh largest in terms of absolute size; the sum is equivalent to 9.6% of India’s GDP.

Additionally, the sector created 40.3 million jobs in 2016, which places India second in the world in terms of total employment generated by tourism. The sector accounts for 9.3% of the country’s total jobs.

While external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has sought a report from the Uttar Pradesh government on the attack, which left the Swiss man with a fractured skull and hearing impairment and the woman with a broken arm, so far the Modi government doesn’t appear to have done much to make the country safer for atithis.