The Press Club of India on Tuesday issued a statement alleging that the central government seems to be working towards the “dismemberment” of the news agency Press Trust of India, after public broadcaster Prasar Bharati threatened to cancel its subscription over its allegedly anti-national coverage. The news agency had interviewed Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong, days after the border clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh that led to the deaths of 20 soldiers.

“The government gives the impression of working for the dismemberment of the Press Trust of India (PTI), India’s premier news agency which has established a name for itself for being a professional news establishment,” the Press Club of India said on Tuesday. “A demolition exercise of such magnitude has been undertaken through its proxy, Prasar Bharati.”

The Press Club said that PTI is a not-for-profit organisation that is balanced in its reportage and has credibility as a media outfit that serves newspapers and other news organisations in remote areas of India. It alleged that on the other hand, Prasar Bharati has failed to live up to its mandate of being India’s public service broadcaster and maintaining autonomy, instead becoming a “lackey” of the government.

“In the matter that has given the government the excuse to move against PTI, the premier news behaved like a fully professional news platform in interviewing China’s ambassador in New Delhi recently,” the press club said. “In doing so, it scooped all in the media. The interview yielded valuable information at a time of heightened tension between India and China.”

The press club described Prasar Bharati’s move of accusing PTI of “anti-national” reportage as “preposterous” and “unacceptable”. It said a public service broadcaster had arrogated to itself the right to define “national interest”, “mimicking features of a dictatorship”.

It said Prasar Bharati has issued the letter through its news service, which no one has heard of. The Press Club of India alleged that the “news service” could be a preliminary move to employ many individuals for driving the propaganda of the government and its political affiliates, with Prasar Bharati paying for it.

The press club alleged that the Centre has given the impression that it wants to take over PTI, for a number of years, by selecting those who will head the agency. However, the PTI Board has thwarted the designs of the government, it said.

“The PBNS has as good as said it will end its subscription to PTI,” the press club said. “This is a move meant to cripple PTI financially. The PTI Board is called upon to take stock of the situation urgently and initiate steps to preserve the PTI’s character.” The press club expressed the worry that the government may coerce smaller private news organisations to serve its interests in the future, instead of those of the public.

“The present government is widely seen by the community of journalists as being keen on exerting total control over the media,” the press club said. “As such, individual journalists and news organisations have been sought to be penalized to bring the media as a whole in line.” It alleged that the move against PTI could be seen as an attempt to control small and medium news organisations in the country which depend on the news agency for their stories.

The controversy

The Chinese diplomat had accused New Delhi of deliberately provoking the violent clash in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15. “The onus is not on China,” Sun had told PTI. “The Indian side crossed the Line of Actual Control for provocation and attacked the Chinese border troops. The Indian forces seriously violated agreements on border issues between the two countries.”

In a letter to Chairperson of PTI Board Vijay Kumar Chopra, Prasar Bharati conveyed its “deep displeasure”, adding that the news agency’s “anti-national” reporting makes it no longer tenable to continue the relationship. It said that Prasar Bharati will soon take a final call on the matter.

The state broadcaster claimed it has supported the news agency by paying a “huge” annual fee running into crores for years. It also accused the agency of being rigid on the issue of rationalisation of their subscription fee.

Prasar Bharati’s backlash against PTI may also be associated with a separate interview the news agency did with Vikram Misri, New Delhi’s ambassador in Beijing. In a tweet, PTI reportedly quoted Misri as saying that Chinese troops “needed to move back to their side” of the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, a statement that runs counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim earlier this month that the troops did not intrude into Indian territory.