Minister for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari has ensured the completion of the swanky National Media Centre at 7 Raisina Road, hailed as the new operational hub for both national and international press in New Delhi.
The New Media Wing will be headed by an official with the rank of joint secretary and would require Rs 22.5 crore during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17). As parties gear up for the 2014 elections, they are increasingly engaging with young first-time voters through the social media. As an official spokesperson for the government, Tewari often sets the agenda with his acerbic early morning tweets against the BJP and its prime ministerial contender Narendra Modi. Tewari’s strategy is to draw critics into a successful debate, ministry sources claim. While, official party spokespersons hold forth at 24 Akbar Road, Tewari is tasked with presenting the government’s side on television. If former I&B minister Ambika Soni maintained a healthy distance from the TV channels, Tewari is a hands-on minister.
With less than 10 months in his first ministerial assignment, the erudite lawyer Tewari has not shied away from taking tough decisions that could have otherwise invited howls of protest against curbing the freedom of press. He told Parliament in a written reply two days ago, “Permissions of 71 channels have been cancelled till date due to reasons of non-operationalisation, non-submission of PBG (Performance Bank Guarantee) or surrender of permission.” Similarly, several channels were taken off air for several days for broadcasting obscene content.
His significant intervention has been the revamp of the government broadcasting company, Doordarshan. He pushed to recruit professional TV journalists to counter competition from private news channels during the 8 pm-10 pm prime time band, which did not take off as expected. Undeterred, the former Youth Congress president set up a committee under technocrat Sam Pitroda for a complete makeover for Prasar Bharti. “Please make Prasar Bharti totally independent if you want to, where it directly reports to Parliament. But the government needs its own TV channel to propagate its schemes,” he had argued.
The NDA government may have lost the image war during the 2004 elections after its India Shining campaign boomeranged, but Tewari is promoting the Rs 630 crore Bharat Nirman campaign to highlight UPA’s key schemes on air. Rs 200 crore would be spent in 2013 itself. Now, both Doordarshan and All India Radio run special programmes showcasing Bharat Nirman success stories. When Tewari took over last year, the ministry was undertaking the contentious digitisation of cable industry. Despite opposition from the states and stakeholders, Tewari pushed ahead with the project and 1.8 crore set top boxes were installed during the second phase.
Even the current project originally named National Press Centre has been rechristened as National Media Centre (NMC) as journalism has expanded to include online and social media. The state-of-the-art centre would serve as one-stop for all press conferences of ministries and government bodies, which for want of government space are held at different venues. Officials say that interactions with foreign dignitaries also could be arranged at the centre, since it has a large conference room which can hold 300 journalists, and boasts a video wall, wi-fi enabled halls, and several work stations to facilitate growing media needs.
The Sunday Standard