“Theek Hai?” asked the PM after recording his message to an agitated nation on the Delhi gangrape. The remark, meant to be for those doing the recording, was telecast without editing. It has set off a virtual war in the PMO and the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry.
The 'Theek Hai?' set off much tittering amidst the Twitterati, but in New Delhi's corridors of power, it has had more serious repercussions. Even as five Doordarshan staffers were suspended yesterday for dereliction of duty (they apparently arrived late for the recording, which then got done by ANI), a full blown blame-game has started among officials in I&B and the PMO.
Fingers are being pointed at the PM’s communications adviser Pankaj Pachauri, a former TV journalist with NDTV. Why did he show such undue haste? Was the situation so alarming that the PM had to go on air immediately without waiting for the Doordarshan crew or even an announcement about the address?
Why was the established protocol, of using only the government-owned Prasar Bharti or Doordarshan in all programmes featuring the Prime Minister, given the go-by? Why was a private party, ANI, preferred over the public broadcaster? Why was an unedited recording fed live to the TV media when it was the PM himself speaking? Why was the PM allowed to record without the aid of a teleprompter (he was seen trying to read from a written script)?
A senior official at Prasar Bharti told Firstpost that not only did the incident subject the PM to ridicule on the social media, but Doordarshan, which was asked to come for the recording, did not even know when the message was to be broadcast. The Doordarshan bosses came to know about it only when private news channels started broadcasting a deferred live feed from the ANI recording. The official broadcaster was the last to telecast it after the recording had already made the headlines. Officials in Prasar Bharti, which runs DD and All India Radio, said this was the first time in history such a goof-up had happened. More so when private channels pay ANI for every feed that they get from it whereas Doordarshan feeds are free.
While initial reports suggested that the scheduled time for recording was 9.30 am, sources said the actual time was 10.30 am and 9.30 am was only the reporting time for the camera crew and other technical staff of Doordarshan. ANI was also asked to be the there to record it. Doordarshan staffers were told at 7.15 am that they had to go to the Prime Minister’s residence at 7 Race Course Road for the purpose. Since it involved the Prime Minister, all the equipment had to be properly tested before moving them. The five employees, now suspended, were considered to be the best of the lot in Doordarshan, which is why they were chosen in the first place.
By the time they moved towards the PM’s residence, traffic movement in that area had been blocked or restricted as part of prohibitory measures to prevent a further gathering of crowds protesting against the gangrape at India Gate and Vijay Chowk. The Doordarshan crew reported at 9.40 pm at the PM's residence, but by then the ANI recording had already started.
Senior officials say there was no urgency to do this, and those concerned in the PMO should have understood the reasons for the 10-minute delay in the crew's arrival and accepted it as unavoidable. But the PM had apparently told Pachauri that he was ready and whenever everything was place, he should be informed. The communication advisor said the camera was in place and he should start recording right away. Two of Pachauri’s colleagues, director-level officials Muthu Kumar and Binoy Job, who had been handling such recordings in the past, had been kept away this time.
When the “Theek hai?” remark at the end of the address went viral on Twitter, sources said Pachauri spoke to I&B Minister Manish Tewari and sought action against the Doordarshan staffers for reporting late. Some asked whether Pachauri was trying to shift the blame this way. A high level inquiry has now been ordered to get to the bottom of the issue.
Some I&B officials blame the goof-up on the DD News brass and the concerned officials in the ministry in Shastri Bhawan. “Someone at the top should have constantly monitored the situation and seen the feed and edited tape before giving an okay for its telecast." A half-hour delay would not have caused any harm, particularly when there was no pre-announced time for the telecast. As it is, the PM had already issued an appeal before recording his actual address to the nation.
Another official said Pachauri, a former NDTV India journalist, was brought in as replacement to the PM's former media adviser Harish Khare in order to handle 24 x 7 TV channels better. Thanks to the "Theek Hai?" fiasco, he is now under pressure.
The blame-game may get worse once the inquiry gets underway.