The Centre on Friday described as “defamatory and sinister” a media report that alleged the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has withheld funds earmarked for Prasar Bharati after the latter refused to pay Rs 2.92 crore as fees to a private company.

The Wire on Thursday reported that Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani had not released any money to Prasar Bharati since December 2017, forcing the public broadcaster to depend on its contingency funds to pay the salaries of Doordarshan and All India Radio employees.

The ministry said a “deliberate, sinister, motivated campaign has been launched by some elements to wrongfully tarnish” its image. “The misinformation is based on ill-will and incorrect appreciation with half-baked facts and is tantamount to causing loss of reputation of the government in public eyes.”

Differences between the I&B Ministry and Prasar Bharati cropped up over payments to a private firm that covered the 2017 International Film Festival of India. Doordarshan refused to pay Rs 2.92 crore to Mumbai-based SOL Productions Pvt Ltd, which arranged for live coverage of the festival. Doordarshan’s objection is that there was “no rationale nor any precedent” to outsource the coverage when they had the “in-house” capability to telecast ceremonies live.

The Prasar Bharati, an autonomous media body, receives grant from the I&B ministry. Chairperson of Prasar Bharati board Surya Prakash told The Wire that they had to pay staffers’ salaries for January and February out of a contingency fund. The broadcaster will run out of money by April if the problem is not resolved, he added.

The Centre said Prasar Bharti is bound by the government’s General Financial Rules to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the ministry that sets times for activities to be done utilising the money granted during that financial year. However, Prasar Bharati has not signed the MoU despite repeated reminders, the statement said.