Prasar Bharati: Government mulls capital restructuring

NEW DELHI: The government is studying various options, including holding equity against asset, which will facilitate a capital restructuring of the financially beleaguered pubcaster Prasar Bharati or Broadcasting Corporation of India.

A committee is looking into the matter that will go a long way in making Prasar Bharati a truly autonomous organisation on the lines of the BBC, information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy today said on the sidelines of the two-day Economic Editors Conference being held here.

Though Reddy did not hand out much details on the financial rejig of the pubcaster, a senior official of his ministry pointed out that the committee would look at options keeping in mind the financial projections that have been made by the pubcaster for a period of 10 years.

At the outset, a balance sheet (of Prasar Bharati) is to be prepared that will tell us how a restructuring can be done and the options that could be exercised by the government,the official explained, pointing out a step in that direction has been taken already.

Earlier this year, for the first time Prasar Bharati came out with a profit and loss account on the lines of annual reports of companies, detailing its activities and businesses.

The government funds Prasar Bharati by extending annual grant-in-aid. A proposal to revive levying a one-time licence fee on radio and TV sets, as done in the UK to aid the BBC, hasnt found many backers.

According to the I&B ministry official, after a stock taking is done of Prasar Bharati, including its human and other assets (excluding software), the options for a restructuring could include transferring of real estate assets to the pubcaster in a cashless deal.

It has to be seen which is the best option for a financial restructuring. This could include transferring of assets to Prasar Bharati on long-term lease or permanently, the official said, pointing out that loans, equity and subsidies could also be options.

But these are things that have to be considered after Prasar Bharatis assets are valued and then contrasted against projections made by the organisation,the official added.

Though there are various estimates of the value of real estate on which offices and facilities of Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) sit around the country --- some of them on prime land --- the Nitish Sengupta Committee had put a figure of Rs. 55 billion on it in the late 1990s at the then market rate. Since then land prices have gone up several notches.

The committee looking into the financial restructuring of Prasar Bharati is expected to submit its report to the government by next month.

Reddy, however, has ruled out repealing of the Prasar Bharati Act as demanded by a section of employees of the organisation in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a couple of months back

Earlier, while listing the I&B ministrys achievements at the Economic Editors Conference, Reddy termed various initiatives, including the newly announced downlinking norms, in the direction of liberalisation and globalisation.

Speaking on mandatory sports content sharing with the Indian pubcaster by telecast rights holders, which has raised the heckles of many a private broadcaster, Reddy said, Its a milestone (decision).

Still, when pointed out that such mandatory content sharing elsewhere, including the UK and Australia, dont get implemented with a retrospective effect (as done by the Indian government), Reddy preferred to keep quiet.

Asked what was the rationale behind restricting foreign news channels (like the BCC and CNN) landing rights in India if they aired content and advertising targeted at Indians, Reddy said a reason was to bring about uniformity in print and electronic media guidelines.

But he did not deny or confirm when it was pointed out to him that this was a measure that was more aimed at having control over foreign news media.

According to the minister, his department does not have a single static media policy.

Each media unit is functioning on two governing principles --- to provide access to information to both the government and private-owned media, while ensuring that socially accepted standards of decency and ethics are maintained.

Dwelling on an initiative relating to piracy, officials informed that I&B ministry had commissioned the Public Service Broadcasting Trust to produce a film regarding the effects of piracy in the film sector. The film, Fight Piracy Today, will be aired on Doordarshan soon.

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