Smriti Irani exits I&B ministry: Controversy and gaffes marked actor-turned-politician's tenure as minister

Smriti Irani's gaffe marred tenure as information and broadcasting minister has come to an end, with the Narendra Modi government replacing her with Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore at the helm of the ministry. Irani was given the ministry as an additional charge, in addition to the textile ministry, in July last year during the previous Cabinet reshuffle, necessitated by M Venkaiah Naidu's elevation as vice-president.

And it's been rough sailing for her ever since, with the minister getting embroiled in numerous controversies. In August, within a month of taking charge of the ministry, Irani pulled up news agency PTI for releasing a photograph of men wearing masks belonging to Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi on the occasion of 'Friendship Day'.

Irani took umbrage to the photograph and shot off a tweet expressing her displeasure and questioning PTI's "official stand". PTI then deleted the tweet, and though it released the photograph separately to media outlets, also issued a 'kill' alert, which is media jargon for withdrawing a picture. They also issued an apology and said that they had withdrawn the picture.

File image of Smriti Irani. PTI

File image of Smriti Irani. PTI

The move was roundly criticised, with the journalist Karan Thapar, writing a column for The Hindu, saying "she not only lacks judgment but needs a better sense of humour" as well. "Clearly, the I&B Minister did not accept a news agency's right to release a picture it thought the public wanted to see. More significantly, she did not accept politicians could be mocked. Most obvious of all, she felt she could admonish the media without contradicting her government’s commitment to honour free speech," he wrote.

In December last year, the I&B ministry was at it again, this time asking television channels to not air advertisements promoting condoms between 6 am and 10 pm, since they are "indecent, especially for children, and can create unhealthy practices among them".

"In view of the above, all TV channels are hereby advised not to telecast the advertisements of condoms which are for a particular age group and could be indecent/inappropriate for viewing by children. Indecent, vulgar, suggestive, repulsive or offensive themes or treatment shall be avoided in all advertisements," she wrote.

Critics again panned the decision and said awareness regarding condoms is essential in order to promote safe sex, and is important in the battle against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

If it was her gaffes that were once the target, it was her silence on another issue that also earned her censure. While the Padmaavat controversy was raging and miscreants indulged in violence in the states of Haryana and Rajasthan, the I&B ministry didn't release a statement. The Congress party issued a statement questioning her silence. "Vandalism to stop release of Padmaavat is despicable, reprehensible and utterly nauseating," tweeted Congress leader Manish Tewari. "Question why is it happening primarily in BJP-ruled states after even Supreme Court has green signalled the film? Is something beyond Padmaavat at play? Why is the I&B minister not standing up to enforce CBFC clearance?"

In April this year, the I&B ministry issued guidelines against fake news. Irani said that the Centre is willing to engage with journalists' bodies or organisations to fight the "menace". "PIB accreditation guidelines asking Press Council of India (PCI) and News Broadcasters' Association (NBA) to define and act against 'fake news' have generated debate," she said on Twitter.

However, the ministry's actions, which had called for penal actions against journalists or media organisations found indulging in fake news, was widely derided. It had also said the accreditation of journalists could be permanently cancelled if s/he was found to be generating or propagating fake news.

The Editor's Guild of India said it "remained disturbed" that faith continues to be reposed on the Press Council of India to deliver justice on such issues. "By notifying that the I&B Ministry will initiate such proceedings, the government was arrogating for itself the role of policing the media. It would have opened the door for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organisations to fall in line," it added.

Congress leader Ahmed Patel also questioned the government's intentions, and asked whether the move was aimed at preventing journalists from reporting news "uncomfortable to the establishment". He also asked who would determine if a reported news item is "fake" and expressed apprehension that rules might be misused to harass reporters.

With inputs from agencies


Updated Date: May 15, 2018 08:18 AM

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