By Dhriti Mehta
“She is like the queen in Alice in Wonderland – it’s ‘off your head’.” These are the words a Prasar Bharati (PB) official said to The Wire in an exclusive report about Smriti Irani. The current Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister seems to follow up on what Lewis Carroll himself described as “blind fury” personified.
It all started when Prasar Bharati refused to pay a fee of nearly Rs 3 crore to a private company for an assignment which could have very well been done by Doordarshan themselves. Irani, who has a history of using passionate rhetoric for protest and expression, has been (till the time of publishing this article) quiet about this particular conflict and has made a shocking move.
Surya Prakash, chairman of the Prasar Bharati board, announced that I&B minister Smriti Irani has taken the unacceptable step of “withholding funds the public broadcaster needs to pay the salaries of the employees”.
This face-off between the PB and I&B ministry, which is the first of its kind in the history of the organisation, has forced the Prasar Bharati to pay its employees out of a contingency fund and declare that the organisation would possibly be penniless by April.
According to sources in PB, the reason for this extreme move on Irani’s part shows her dissatisfaction with Doordarshan. The channel, which falls under PB, rejected the repeated demands of the I&B to hire a private firm to cover the 2017 International Film Festival of India. This assignment would have given the firm exclusive rights way above the market rates and would have also appointed two key journalists, Siddharth Zarabi and Abhijit Majumder, on Irani’s advice and at a price higher than PB officials.
Her actions are of course facing fierce criticism. Following the report, Irani has been receiving massive backlash on Twitter and it’s clear that and authoritarian behaviour do not fit in a democracy.
Basically Iraniji, it is not cool to mess with public officials who are just trying to do their job.