NEW DELHI: With all journalists organisations throughout the country having decided not to respond to the Prime Minister’s invitation for a dialogue on the obnoxious Defamation Bill, isolation of the Government from the mainstream public opinion has become complete.

The seven member ministerial committee set up by the Prime Minister to evaluate suggestions from the newspaper fraternity has for all practical purposes become infructuous. Far from responding positively to the proposal for a dialogue with the Government on the Bill, the demand on the part of journalists, Opposition parties and numerous other organisations and institutions in the country has intensified.

Additionally resentment against he Bill within the ruling party is also mounting. There is a proposal currently being discussed by some senior leaders in the Congress (1) to launch a signature campaign against the bill and to present a memorandum to the Prime Minister urging him to withdraw the Bill in to and not persist with the idea of the dialogue anymore. The sponsors of this proposal include some of the leaders who had collectively and individually written to the Prime Minister a month ago asking him to initiate measures for streamlining the party.

Although the demonstration of unprecedented unity and solidarity among newspaper ranks against the Defamation Bill has unnerved the Government, there is as yet no evidence of rethinking on the issue. Though several Cabinet Ministers have made no secret of their opposition to the Bill, all Ministers seem to be awaiting word from the Prime Minister on the future course of action. On his part, the Prime Minister continues to hold the view that while the Bill can be amended in certain respects, the need for such a legislation exists. He has given expression to this view in his speech at the Golden jubilee celebrations of National Herald on Friday and in private conversations with individuals or delegations calling on him in the past few days.

Meanwhile, some hawkish Ministers within the Cabinet are understood to be mounting pressure on. Mr. H.K.L. Bhagat, Information and Broadcasting Minister, to replace immediately the Director General of Doordarshan, Mr. Bhaskar Ghosh, for the alleged failure of the official media to mould public opinion in favour of the Defamation Bill.

According to informed source, Mr. Bhagat came in for severe criticism at a recent Cabinet meeting for his failure to discipline the official media. Some ministers are reported to have demanded the

immediate dismissal of Mr. Ghosh while some others wanted drastic measures to revamp both Door darshan and All India Radio to make them better instruments to project a favourable image of the Government,

Mr. Bhagat is learnt to have submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister immediately after the Cabinet meeting. However, he was persuaded by some of his colleagues, notably the Minister the Prime Minister’s office, Mrs. Sheila Dixit, not to press it. After some consultations it was suggested to the Prime Minister that a ministerial committee should be constituted immediately to go into the entire gamut of the functioning of the official media, and Mr. Bhagat was again persuaded to head the committee. The announcement relating to the setting up of the committee, which comprises three Ministers of State Mr. Shivraj Patil, Mr. R. Prabhu and Mr. Santosh Mohan Dev was made on September 1 even as the campaign by journalists against the Defamation Bill was gaining momentum.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 23, 1988