Prasar Bharati to phase out dependence on news agencies

MUMBAI: The Prasar Bharati board has decided to drastically cut down its dependence on news agencies PTI and UNI by 2006.

Currently the two news agencies contribute over 40 per cent content to news aired by Doordarshan and All India Radio and cost the pubcaster a whopping Rs 110 million each year for the same. AIR's own 270 part time correspondents, spread across the country, on the other hand, contribute nearly 60 per cent of content to DD and AIR but cost Prasar Bharati only Rs 4 million annually. This is because the correspondents, being part timers are paid only Rs 750 per month, apart from telephone allowances.

At a Prasar Bharati board meeting held on 13 August, it was decided that over the next two years, the situation would be drastically altered. While the dependence on agencies would be curtailed, its own correspondents would henceforth get double the pay monthly, while stringers would be paid separately. Prasar Bharati CEO K S Sarma, who was in Mumbai on Thursday, told the media that he planned to appoint 560 correspondents for each district in the country in the next few years to build up a strong content team for both DD and AIR. The news department at DD and AIR currently use the content provided by the agencies after cross checking the facts with its own sources, Sarma said.

Sarma who was in Mumbai to meet with MSOs to convince them to carry DD1 and DD2 as mandatory channels in the prime band, said that the pubcaster was also taking steps to ensure that content was being beefed up to match that of the channels favoured by the cable ops. Claiming that the MSOs maintain that the failure to carry DD channels was the fault of the last mile operators, Sarma said that strict punitive action was being contemplated against defaulting cable ops in the country.

The CEO is on a visit to states with the highest cable penetration in the country (Andhra Pradesh with 84 per cent penetration, followed by Tamil Nadu and then Maharashtra) and said that while compliance with the legislation requiring carriage of the two DD channels on prime band is good in Maharashtra, it is still 'not 100 per cent'. The problem is acute in rural areas where television sets have limited number of channels available, he said.

Director general, DD, S Y Qureishi, who was also present, said that DD which has increased its budgetary allocation for content creation from the usual Rs 160 million to Rs 800 million this year, has decided to step up its in house programming from this year to compete with programmes offered by satellite channels. "We will also be going in for more commissioned programmes, acquiring programmes off the shelf, on royalty basis as well as co-productions," he said.

DD, which has set up a creative advisory committee under the chairmanship of adman Alyque Padamsee and has hired a professional agency for beefing up the packaging of the channels, is also looking to hire an ad agency to promote its shows through print ads. The pubcaster is also embarking on a massive cross promotional drive on its channels shortly, he said.

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