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Use of State Media by Political Parties

Context

  • Two Opposition leaders were required to modify their speeches aired on Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) during the run-up to the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.
  • Leaders Involved: Sitaram Yechury (Communist Party of India – Marxist) and G. Devarajan (All India Forward Bloc).

Specific Changes Required

  • Sitaram Yechury:
    • Had to delete references to the electoral bond scheme.
    • Remove terms like “communal authoritarian regime” and “draconian laws”.
    • Replace the word “bankruptcy” (of governance) with “failure”.
  • Devarajan: Was instructed to remove the word “Muslims” from his speech about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Leaders’ Discontent

  • Called the censorship a denial of the right to dissent and criticised the directive to replace “bankruptcy” with “failure” as endorsing the government’s authoritarian nature.
  • Argued unsuccessfully for the need to use the word “Muslims” to emphasise the discriminatory nature of the CAA.

Reasons and Reactions

  • Prasar Bharati’s Stance: Following rules set by the Election Commission of India (ECI) regarding the use of state-controlled media by recognized parties during elections.
  • Opposition Leaders’ Reactions:
    • Yechury criticised the changes as a denial of the right to dissent in a democracy.
    • Devarajan argued the necessity of using the word “Muslims” to highlight the CAA’s discriminatory nature.

Allocation of Broadcast Time

  • General Policy: Recognized political parties have been allowed to use state-owned television and radio since the 1998 Lok Sabha elections.
    • ECI determines the amount of broadcast time allotted to each national and state party.
  • 2024 Elections:
    • National parties received a minimum of 10 hours on Doordarshan’s national channel and AIR, with additional time based on vote share from the 2019 elections.
    • State parties collectively received a minimum of 30 hours on regional Doordarshan channels and AIR stations.

Guidelines on Speech Content

  • Submission and Approval: Parties must submit transcripts of speeches 3-4 days before recording for approval by AIR and Doordarshan authorities.
  • ECI Guidelines: Prohibit criticism of other countries, attacks on religions or communities, obscene or defamatory content, incitement of violence, contempt of court, aspersions against the President and judiciary, anything affecting national unity, sovereignty, and integrity, and personal attacks by name

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