Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni talks about media muzzle, ‘shooting the messenger’ and Gandhian Anna Hazare with Zeenews.com’s Swati Chaturvedi on her talk show Kahiye Janab. Excerpts from the interview:
Swati: You are described as the Cold War Warrior of the UPA government. Now, you want to take revenge on media over Annagiri?
Ambika Soni: These buzz have nothing to do with reality. Each and every thing shown by media is not true. I am not able to understand why it is being hyped that the government wants to regulate the media. In my two and a half years of tenure as I&B Minister, I have not learnt that the UPA government ever thought of regulating media.
Media has its public face. The more eyeballs you attract, the more commercial viability increases. It is high time to think about the ‘media trail’ and stuffs that family members can’t watch together. This is the reason behind formation of the self-regulatory bodies for media like the NBA.
As far as our ministry is concerned, we have not issued any advisory. Not until NBA asks us to take stringent action against any organisation not abiding by its guidelines.
Swati:: You mean the talk of ‘tightening the screws’ is entirely baseless?
Ambika Soni: Absolutely baseless; but I don’t understand why such a notion arose in your mind in the first place? It means you know that some of your methods are incorrect and you want the government to prohibit. So start blaming the government and ministry.
Swati: Justice Markandey Katju, the PCI chief, has made a wild attack on media, singling out electronic media. He alleged that journalists these days do not have any sense about economics and politics. The Editors’ Guild has sternly criticised his statement. What’s your take?
Ambika Soni: I won’t like to comment on his personal remarks. Mr Katju is a dignified person and eminent ex-judge and currently he is the head of PCI which is an autonomous body under an Act of Parliament. That is why I will not comment on his remarks.
Swati: Justice Katju is not willing to meet Editor’s Guild for consulting on such issues. It seems he has a feral dislike for the electronic media. How will he regulate the media if this is the case?
Ambika Soni: No, it’s not true. Former PCI chief Justice Ray had made a suggestion in this regard. The government has formed a GoM under Union Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s presidency. The GoM aims at empowering the PCI. It is working out the ways to check paid news. Recently, the Supreme Court had commented on the reference of media and I personally think media needs to introspect.
Swati: Paid news is a blot but the responsible media strongly feels that the government wants to suppress electronic media by strengthening PCI. This gives a feel of Soviet relic as if a Cold War is going on between the two. Is the UPA regime trying to curtail the freedom of press by shooting the messenger?
Ambika Soni: Terming the I&B Ministry as ‘relic’ totally depends on you. But remember, it is the ministry that declared the ‘sunset hour analogue system’. Who is responsible for the coordination of such a system in the country? An institution is required for its implementation by December 31, 2014.
Swati: You have Congress in your veins. How does is it feel when senior Cabinet ministers fight like kids?
Ambika Soni: No, we are not fighting. See, ours is a coalition government and it’s a bunch of several parties having different ideologies. We are united on the fundamental ideologies like prosperity of the nation and development of the society. We continuously have discussions over each and every issue.
Swati: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s letter to PM Manmohan Singh during his visit to the UN shows that there was a tussle between two Congress veterans (Pranab and Home Minister P Chidambaram). And Sonia Gandhi had to intervene to resolve the matter. What was that?
Ambika Soni: Why are you digging old graves? You yourself said that Soniaji had resolved the issue.
Swati: Recently, an SMS was in circulation and it read, ‘When the lady of the house is away, chaos happens’. Do you think all that happened because of Soniaji’s absence?
Ambika Soni: If differences crop up between such senior ministers then someone of Soniaji’s stature can provide moral guidance and tackle it. Soniaji is the backbone of Congress.
Swati: Will there be a leadership vacuum after Sonia Gandhi?
Ambika Soni: No, not at all. We have many good leaders in each and every state we are ruling in. But a leader who sacrifices the office and works for the society is rare now a days.
Swati: People are fed up with such big scams and the soaring inflation. Congress has failed to live up to the people’s expectations.
Ambika Soni: It is just because we are in power we are being held accountable for corruption not only in our tenure, but also of the previous regime. This is the reason behind people’s anger and this is not against any particular party.
Swati: What did you learn from the rhetoric during Anna Hazare’s fast and the criticism of your party?
Ambika Soni: Look... one must have a pure conscience before leading any mass movement. He/she must be clear that his/her past actions should not point fingers on himself/herself. If this happens, then that person must immediately self evict from the movement.
Swati: When will you bring the Lokpal Bill in Parliament?
Ambika Soni: I will go back to PM’s promise that he’ll bring a strong Lokpal Bill in the Winter Session. The Standing Committee is working day and night to draft a strong Lokpal Bill.
Swati: Does Digvijay Singh’s rhetoric on Anna, Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar suit the Congress party?
Ambika Soni: I don’t want to comment on anyone’s personal remarks. We are often criticised for the comments we make about others. After all we are in politics and not any saintly organisation.
Adapted by: Avinash Sharma