New Delhi: Responding to Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati’s refusal to attend an awards function organised by the BBC over its coverage of the Delhi violence, Jamie Angus, the BBC World Service Group Director, said the broadcaster stands by its reportage.
In an interview to ThePrint, Angus said BBC was willing to face consequences for covering events on the ground in a manner it thought was “independent”.
“We were sorry that he (Vempati) didn’t feel able to join us but think that it is right that we continue to report accurately and independently on events as we find them. And we are happy to take the consequences of that,” Angus said.
In the letter dated 4 March and addressed to BBC Director General Tony Hall, Vempati said he must “respectfully” decline the broadcaster’s invite to him for the ‘BBC Indian Sportswoman of the Year’ awards on 8 March over its Delhi riots reportage.
In the letter, Vempati said he was “dismayed” at the BBC’s “one-sided version” on the Delhi violence. He also said the reportage cast aspersions on the “brave men and women in uniform”, further vitiating the atmosphere further rather than breaking the cycle of violence.
Speaking about the riots, Angus said the past few weeks had been difficult and tense not only for the Indian media but several foreign journalists too. But it was “BBC’s duty to report India fairly to the international audiences”, he added.
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BBC vs India media’s coverage of Delhi riots
Angus said there was an “intense and emotional Indian media scene” when it came to matters of communal violence, but admitted it was difficult to generalise such a claim. He especially pointed out news coverage by Hindi channels and said many tended to be “incredibly emotional” on the subject.
“BBC does not enter into the emotional psycho drama element. People come to us for another reason — because we are dispassionate, independent and don’t have a stake or agenda on issues like these,” he added.
Angus also noted that BBC’s English news website was blocked by certain telecom providers after its coverage of the Delhi riots. But the ban was soon lifted, he said, adding there was no official communication from the Indian government on any breach by the broadcaster.
“BBC is a large and robust…organisation to withstand pressure. And I think that is sometimes missing in national markets. National news organisation can often be put under intense pressure — whether it is regulatory, commercial or political pressure — to drop stories,” Angus added.
Reporting on Kashmir
This isn’t the first time that BBC has been criticised for its coverage of events in India. The broadcaster came under intense scrutiny for its reportage on Jammu and Kashmir after Article 370 was scrapped in the region.
While the home ministry claimed that BBC had published a “fabricated” video of large-scale protests in Srinagar’s Soura area, the Indian Army denied its report of Kashmiris being tortured by personnel.
फ़ोन ,आवागमन की थोड़ी असुविधा को @bbchindi @AlJazeera_World द्वारा बढ़ा चढ़ाकर प्रस्तुत किया जा रहा है ,बसे बसाए हिंदुओं को उजारकर देश के अन्य भागो में तंबुओं में रहने के लिए विवश किया गया,पूजा स्थलों को ध्वस्त किया गया तो इनलोगो को दर्द नही हुआ. ये ग़लतबयानी में सिद्धहस्त हैं .
— Prof Rakesh Sinha (@RakeshSinha01) August 28, 2019
Responding to these allegations, Angus said, “We stand by our reportage in both Delhi and Kashmir.”
Angus explained that the broadcaster played a unique role in highlighting how “both sides (India and Pakistan) see Kashmir”, which is what its audiences come to see. “The unique role of the BBC is that it can bring audiences together to understand each others points of view.”
He added that it wasn’t only in India that the BBC has been accused of peddling fake news but in other nations too when it did not “suit people’s agenda”. The BBC, he claimed, has also debunked many fake news that were being circulated in the form of videos.
Role of BBC in India
There wasn’t any difference in way the BBC operated in India, be it under the Narendra Modi government or the previous regimes, Angus said.
“Wherever BBC operates, we do within local regulations and laws. And will continue to do that here in India. One of the things that strikes me about India is the vibrant and thriving press environment in the country. There is a lot of original and bold journalism being done in India,” he said.
Angus underscored BBC’s commitment to bringing out stories from India to the rest of the world and moving beyond the purview of hard news.
“We have almost 300 journalists in India and have recently launched news services in four new languages. There has been a big jump in our audiences. Currently, India is our largest country audience,” he added.
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