There’s no place for censorship in a democracy: Ambika Soni

There’s no place for censorship in a democracy: Ambika SoniInformation and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni in a friendly interview session with’s Swati Chaturvedi on the programme "Kahiye Janab" laid emphasis on the futility of forced media censorship in the 21st century and the need for DD to come out of the government’s shadow. Self regulation, according to her was the key to avoid government interference in private media. Swati: What is the use of I&B Ministry?

Ambika Soni: Perhaps India is the only country where there’s no regulatory authority to monitor media. Technology is advancing so fast that the government has to keep pace with it.

Swati: Your ministry is the license holder of private channels and it is said that nowadays superstition also is being marketed in the name of media. What do you have to say?

Ambika Soni: There’s a website of I&B Ministry and we are open to receiving inputs. A national debate is needed on issues like these as otherwise it gets misinterpreted as censorship. In the 21st century and in the Indian democracy, censorship is not the right path for the educated.

And as far as a content code is concerned, only when it is accepted would there be a debate on who will implement the same.

Swati: You are saying you don’t want censorship, but in case you watch something on TV, what is it that you would reject outright?

Ambika Soni: There is the Cable Code Regulatory Act. In case someone breaches it and our monitoring cell receives complaints, then the panel headed by I&B Secretary examines the issue thoroughly. This cell monitors at least 150 channels 24 hours per day. In case a breach is found, then we ban a channel for say a month. But I don’t want to go to that extent.

Self Regulatory Act is the proper way of educated people.

Swati: Once Ambika Soni was a very powerful leader. But some people say that now that power does not exist. Could you please comment on that?

Ambika Soni: I have been given the Information and Broadcasting Ministry which is given only to responsible and trustworthy leaders. My aim is to ensure that dissemination of information and choice of entertainment is made accessible in the remote areas also.

I would like to see that not only are towers installed in places like Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East, but they are also properly manned to ensure that they have signals.

In case I am able to safeguard the commercial interest of the private media whilst seeking their help for what I want to achieve I would consider myself successful.

Swati: You have been criticised a number of times. Recently you were attacked by your own party colleague Jairam Ramesh. Why are you attacked like this time and again?

Ambika Soni: My fault is that I am blunt. But I have been in politics for 40 years. And my leadership trusts me. I am not going to change my habits now. When I was made Tourism and Culture Minister, media said that Ambika Soni has been put on the backburner. My ministry at the time established Brand India across the globe. Some world leaders who came here called it "Incredible India".

Swati: Is branding media not more difficult compared to branding India?

Ambika Soni: We managed to grant autonomy to Prasar Bharti. But somewhere inside this psychology prevails that Doordarshan and Akashwani are still owned by the government. Maybe because DD highlights government programmes and its reach is also double compared to all news channels put together. But we are telling them to charge commercial rate from the government to make themselves economically competitive and become a choice channel.

I have specifically told DD not to publicise my image. Now that Commonwealth Games are approaching, it is up to DD and Prasar Bharti to see how India’s image is projected to the outside world. That’s why I am after them to market themselves as a preferred channel.

Swati: You once said that your biggest mistake was to leave the Congress and this time you didn’t contest the polls. In between these two mistakes, what do you have to say?

Ambika Soni: Not contesting polls this time was a party decision which was disappointing to me. But we don’t have enough strength in the Rajya Sabha so that’s why.

Swati: On the one hand is women’s reservation bill and on the other is this decision of the party?

Ambika Soni: Sonia and the Congress party have reposed faith in me and put me in the forefront. It is pay back time for me.

Adaptation by: Ritam Banati