The Information and Broadcasting Ministry was in news for making some controversial decision when Smiti Irani was at the helm of affairs.
The Information and Broadcasting Ministry was in news for making some controversial decision when Smriti Irani was at the helm of affairs. The most prominent among them included the controversy over “guidelines to regulate fake news”, which caused widespread outrage among media organizations and were withdrawn after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention. Her ministry was at the centre of a controversy over around 50 recipients of the National Film Awards skipping the award ceremony earlier this month.
The recipients were unhappy over President Ram Nath Kovind presenting the awards to only a select set of winners. The Rashtrapati Bhavan had reportedly conveyed to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) its unhappiness at the manner in which the president’s office was dragged into the controversy due to what it saw as mismanagement on the part of the I&B Ministry. In a major embarrassment for the ministry, the PMO had on April 3 ordered it to withdraw a press release on fake news, holding that the decision on what constitutes fake news should be left to press bodies.
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Announcing measures to check fake news, the ministry had said that a journalist’s accreditation could be permanently cancelled if the scribe is found generating or propagating fake news. The ministry had come in for criticism in April after it issued an order for constitution of a committee to frame rules to regulate news portals and media websites. More than 100 journalists and media professionals had then written to Irani, saying additional regulations will open up the possibility of widespread abuse and attempts to suppress political dissent by the government.
A number of Indian Information Service officers were transferred during Irani’s tenure, prompting the officers’ association to write to the PMO, drawing its attention to the orders, which it alleged were in contravention of the rules and established practices. A row had erupted after news website The Wire quoted Prasar Bharati Chairman A Surya Prakash as saying that the public broadcaster had to pay staff salary for January and February out of its contingency funds as the ministry had not released the funds.
The news website had claimed that the delay in the release of funds was due to an alleged standoff between the Prasar Bharati and the I&B Ministry. Reacting to the news report, the ministry had said that the Prasar Bharati had not signed an MoU with it as required by autonomous bodies getting grants-in-aid by the government. The ministry was also in news when its proposal to appoint an IAS officer as the Member (Personnel) on the Prasar Bharati Board was reportedly dropped at its board meeting in February with some members opining that the move would amount to contempt of the Prasar Bharati Act.
Another resolution that was reportedly dropped at the meeting was regarding the appointment of two senior journalists as head of Doordarshan News and Chief Editor of Prasar Bharati News Service (AIR) on the grounds of high costs. Modi tonight removed Irani as I&B Minister and gave the portfolio to her deputy Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in a minor but significant reshuffle of his cabinet. Irani had assumed the charge of the ministry in July last year after M Venkaiah Naidu had resigned following his nomination as the NDA’s vice presidential candidate.