The Congress tracked how the media portrayed its Prime Minister discreetly, while the BJP does it aggressively and overtly. The task is carried out by the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) — a legacy of the British, inherited by the Congress and now the BJP — to keep a tab on all news channels to find out how much airtime is devoted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Now, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley and Minister of State Rajyavardhan Rathore have joined the list of those being tracked in the news broadcast by the electronic media. The coverage of Mr. Modi’s Mann ki Baat on All India Radio and his engagements with world leaders find a mention on the significant list of activities undertaken by the EMMC, displayed on its webpage. The Central Monitoring Service was used by the British primarily to track anti-war propaganda on radio. Its new avatar, the EMMC was set up on June 9, 2008, by the UPA government to monitor the content of television channels and report on violations of the programme and advertising code. It serves as a chilling deterrent to free speech and offers the Ministry reasons to serve show-cause notices on television channels.
While the EMMC’s declared mandate is to monitor television channels for programme content and advertisement violations and report them to the Ministry, the centre, since August 2014, also lists tracking airtime given to the two Ministers as a significant activity it undertakes.
Sources said no instructions were received from the Ministry to track the Prime Minister or Ministers concerned, but it is expected of the centre to do so.
The violations committed by channels are interpreted along the lines of the programme code of the Cable Television Networks Rules (1994) which under Section 6 lists the several don’ts that channels have to conform to. The sweeping provisions ask channels not to offend good taste, decency or attack religions or communities. Nor should they carry anything that is likely to encourage or incite violence or anything that goes against maintenance of law and order or that promotes anti-national attitudes. Specifically, the code says programmes should not telecast anything amounting to contempt of court; they should not contain aspersions on the integrity of the President and the judiciary, criticise, malign or slander any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country.
And it is the code that EMMC follows as it looks for transgressions and airtime to ministers. In September 2014, 15 news clips were sent on the Prime Minister and 20 on Mr. Jaitely. The EMMC also sent a comparative analysis of the coverage of the Prime Minister by various news channels and the time devoted to his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ among other news.
From November, Minister of State Rajyavardhan Rathore’s name appears on the list of activities by the EMMC. While 10 TV news clips are sent for Mr. Jaitely, Mr. Rathore has two to his credit. In March, Mr. Rathore pips Mr. Jaitley, with 17 news clips. Continuing through April, both Mr Jaitely and Mr. Rathore are counted for their appearances on television.
Sources said: “It is the tracking of ministers that consumes all the time and prevents a proper monitoring of channels.”
Interestingly, the EMMC started tracking Gujarat Channels from January 2015. Around this time, it also sent comparative analyses of the coverage given by various news channels to Mr. Modi and U.S President Barack Obama’s joint address in ‘Mann Ki Baat Saath Saath’ programme on AIR and Mr. Obama’s two visits to India (from November 6 to 8, 2010 during the UPA rule and from January 25 to 27, 2015) to the officers concerned. Apart from these, the EMMC sent reports on news related to the upcoming Assembly elections in Delhi. The list is by no means comprehensive, as in the last four months the EMMC has not listed anything significant on its website.
The source of all show-cause notices, four in the last one month alone, served on news channels can be tracked to the centre which functions under the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. It is here that officials watch out for television channels, about 600 of them, tripping on the programme code drawn up by the government, offering the I&B Ministry reasons to serve show cause notices on the channels. The EMMC now monitors around 600 TV channels on a 24x7 basis.
Compared with the detailed account of airtime to Mr. Modi and the two of his ministers posted on the website, the two months preceding the elections in 2014, under the UPA, make for a staid reading, with information on the violations made by the channels and observations on the coverage to the UPA’s flagship programme Bharat Nirman.