New Delhi: The Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati has declined the BBC’s invitation to an event on the grounds that the broadcaster’s coverage of the recent Delhi riots was “one-sided”, “without context” and insinuated “communal behaviour”.
In a letter to BBC Director General Tony Hall dated 4 March, Vempati has written that he must “respectfully” decline the broadcaster’s invite to him for the ‘BBC Indian Sportswoman of the Year’ awards night over its Delhi riots reportage.
Vempati, however, did not mention the word ‘riots’ anywhere in the letter, but instead referred to it as “incidents of violence”.
The move is unprecedented since this is the first time the head of the Indian public service broadcaster has written to his British counterpart complaining about alleged biased coverage.
Prasar Bharti is the parent body of state-owned broadcasters Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR).
Letter mentions BBC video
Vempati’s letter mentions a video news report by BBC journalist Yogita Limaye and others on the Delhi Police that aired on 3 March.
The BBC has found Delhi police acted along Hindu rioters during a wave of attack on Muslims last week. Police in the capital are coming under increasing pressure as allegations of complicity in the clashes emerge. An investigation by @yogital, @shaluyadavbbc & @NickWoolley1234 pic.twitter.com/i6oSmpkP1r
— BBC News India (@BBCIndia) March 3, 2020
It claims the video shows visuals of the Delhi Police that were “without context” and “insinuate communal behavior”.
“Unfortunately nowhere in the entire report have the BBC journalists mentioned the murderous assault on the men in uniform by a mob that resulted in the death of a Head Constable while in the line of duty and also resulted in the fatal injuries received by a Deputy Commissioner of Police (sic),” the letter states.
The letter further adds that the report is “also damningly silent” on the “brutal targeted murder of an Intelligence Bureau Official through multiple stab wounds numbering in the hundreds”.
It stated his only fault was that he happened to be a resident of the violence hit area, the letter reads. “As a fellow public broadcaster of global repute, it is dismaying that the BBC has filed such a singularly one-sided version of the incidents of violence in Delhi,” it adds.
It said instead of breaking the cycle of violence, the reportage has only contributed to further “vitiating the atmosphere while insinuating the brave men and women in uniform who are charged with the onerous responsibility of law and order.”
A vocal Prasar Bharti
Vempati letter states that he strongly believes that as public broadcasters, BBC and Prasar Bharati must respect the “sovereignty of the nations” they serve, even as they collaborate beyond borders on multilateral fora for the “greater global good.”
“I hope the BBC would review its editorial views on reports of this nature in line with this spirit,” Vempati’s letter reads, adding that he hopes that the BBC as a public broadcaster will continue to discharge its public service mandate as before.
The letter reflects a change in the Prasar Bharati’s stance on the foreign publications’ reportage on India that has been evident over the last few months.
With major foreign publications ranging from The New York Times and Washington Post to The Guardian (UK) and Le Monde (France) publishing highly critical reports of the Modi government, Prasar Bharat’s Twitter handle Prasar Bharati News Service (PBNS) has publicly slammed foreign publications on their coverage of incidents within India.
This includes warning The Guardian against provoking communal hatred in India ahead of the Ayodhya verdict and calling Pakistan PM Imran Khan as the troll PM of terroristan. It has recently tweeted about multiple complaints against foreign publications and channels including Huffington Post and Al Jazeera, with the hashtag #NewsJihad.
Vempati had recently told ThePrint that it is a conscious strategy and that on the global front, India’s public broadcaster would speak up in national interest.