NEW DELHI: The Union government has sent a notice to Press Trust of India, asking the news agency to cough up Rs 84 crore by August 7 as penalty for allegedly violating the terms under which it was allotted the plot for its Parliament Street headquarters.
Officials at the Union housing and urban affairs ministry described the notice, sent by the land and development office, as routine. But it has come 10 days after Prasar Bharati threatened to end its subscription of the PTI news feed following reporting that appeared at variance with the government’s line on the border standoff with China.
The “demand letter” sent on July 7 came in response to the news agency’s request for regularising the breaches up to July 14. Apparently, the letter was a follow-up to an inspection of the premises in February.
It said that if PTI failed to pay the dues and fix the breaches in time, the deal was off and the news agency could face further action in accordance with the lease conditions.
A PTI spokesperson said: “We have just received a demand notice. We are seeking clarification from authorities, and have no further comments for now.”
The Congress saw an agenda in the move. “The Cost of ‘Speaking the Truth’!” tweeted the party communications chief, Randeep Surjewala.
On June 27, Prasar Bharati News Service — a new arm of the public broadcaster without much of a footprint online — had written to PTI dubbing its coverage “detrimental to national interest” and threatening to review its subscription of the agency’s news feed.
The letter had dredged up an old issue over the subscription fee. It was seen as a pressure tactic to force the agency to toe the Narendra Modi government’s line in its news coverage.
While the government had been displeased with the PTI board for asserting itself in the selection of the editor-in-chief a couple of years ago, the immediate trigger for Prasar Bharati’s letter seemed to be the agency’s back-to-back interviews with the Chinese and Indian ambassadors in New Delhi and Beijing.
On June 26, PTI had issued, and failed to withdraw, a news flash and a tweet about the Indian ambassador in Beijing saying China must “move back to its side of the LAC (Line of Actual Control)”. The comment was at odds with Prime Minister Modi’s June 19 claim that no one had intruded into India and no intruder was present on Indian soil.
The contentious quote was eventually dropped from the report the agency filed from Beijing. Nor has Prasar Bharati withdrawn its subscription so far.
Earlier, after the Chinese embassy put out a transcript of PTI’s June 25 interview with the country’s ambassador, BJP supporters and some independent strategic analysts had slammed the agency, asking why no questions challenging the Chinese narrative had been posed to the ambassador.