Regulators

'"I will pursue CAS as zealously as my predecessor" : Ravi Shankar Prasad Information & broadcasting minister

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Ravi Shankar Prasad, the new minister of information and broadcasting is a no-nonsense man. He speaks haltingly, in a measured manner, mulling, chewing and pondering over every word before he lets it past his lips. The man is obviously not given to flamboyance.

Since he has taken over just few days back at a high-profile ministry - regarded for long as the graveyard of some of the best of politicians (evn for an equally high-profile media-loving person like Sushma Swaraj) - Prasad has been trying his best to keep pace with the fast changing scene in the media, entertainment and broadcasting sectors.

But his disarming ways can be infectious. He candidly admits: 

"I am new in this office and am still acquainting myself with the setup and this includes even taking calls on the phone sets (conveniently located at various places in the spacious Shastri Bhawan office of the I&B minister in Delhi)." As if on cue he ambles to another section of the office to receive a call with a smile on his face.

Prasad, a lawyer by profession prior to his entry in politics and subsequently into the Union Cabinet, is one of the rising stars of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that leads the coalition Indian government.

Indiantelevision.com's executive editor Anjan Mitra caught up with Prasad on the morning of 5 February at his office for his first ever interview as a minister to the media. (That is, if one doesn't take into account the interview that was telecast of the minister on Doordarshan last week.)

What are your priorities ?

The basic agenda is quite simple: bringing information to the people. This is in the forefront of the communication strategy. In this regard, Doordarshan and the All India Radio will have a big role to play. In the tenth five-year plan, the growth of the country has been targeted at eight per cent and the reforms being undertaken by the government will form an integral part of this communication strategy. How to communicate these issues to the people?

The idea is to make it a people's plan. In this whole plan, the public broadcaster is an important element and effort would be to make the public broadcaster competitive so that it can give quality fare.

"The public broadcaster is an important element and the effort would be to make the public broadcaster competitive so that it can give quality fare"

Where competitiveness is concerned, the public broadcaster, Prasar Bharati, is found wanting at times in rising to the occasion vis-?-vis private satellite channels. Your comments.

:We are seized of the matter and such issues will be taken care of, especially any doubts regarding Prasar Bharati (that oversees the functioning of DD and AIR), though Prasar Bharati still gets financial aid from the government.

But competitiveness does not only mean entertainment. I agree it is an important aspect, but development (news and information) also sells. That is information like the spread of floriculture, steps taken in the agricultural sector and so on. Information and news like this will have to be taken to the masses. The government's achievements and works done for the public will have to be spread in a constructive manner.

Your predecessor believed that the 'E' of ICE (information, communication and entertainment) should be given a fillip. Do you also subscribe to similar beliefs? 

I think we'll focus on the film sector in a big way too. The growth in this sector has been 100 per cent and it would be our endeavour to encourage this growth. But I'd like more transparency coming into the whole functioning of the film industry. That way the government would also be able to do more.

"I think we'll focus on the film sector in a big waytoo. The growth in this sector has been 100 per cent and it would be our endeavour to help the industry in this growth "

There are still nagging doubts about the rollout of conditional access system in India as expressed by the industry. Do you feel that conditions aren't right for CAS in the country? 

I am still studying the issue in detail. But I think that people of India should get a good mix of free to air and pay channels at a fair price without being put to much inconvenience. Middlemen should not exploit the consumer. Greater transparency is needed here. .

That's exactly one of the concerns; that CAS may not ensure full transparency for the stakeholders of the industry. What do you have to say on this aspect? 

There are some gray areas, but a task force has been formed to look into the issues (including the pricing of the basic tier and the composition of the basic tier of service) . Let's wait for the recommendation of the task force that has been mandated to address concerns of the industry on CAS. .

"I think that people of India should get a good mix of free to air and pay channels at a fair price"

Would you pursue as zealously the implementation of CAS like your predecessor did ? 

Why not? But give me some time to study the various issues before I could tell the media in detail about these things.

What about the issue of uplinking foreign news channel from India? 

I want to have a policy for such issues that is totally transparent. The government is in the process of taking a decision on this.

Why do you think the issue of Star's proposal to uplink from India has been hyped? What is so unique about it as it falls within the existing policy on uplinking ? 

I don't know about the hype. What I can say is that it is a unique case. Unlike BBC and CNN, Star News would feed India with 24-hour news programmes. It has also been stated by Star that its holding is foreign. So I'd like to have the Cabinet look into the issue and take a decision, as per the directives of the Cabinet.

Is it possible that Star News proposal could get a provisional nod and would be subject to future policies on the issue as and when they are finalised? 

Everything is under consideration. But at this moment I don't want to say anything definitive and please don't force to me to say more. I am still studying the proposal and trying to understand it.

Is there a deadline for the I&B ministry to take the Star proposal to the Cabinet? 

I said I am not in a position to say anything definitive at the moment. The issue certainly is commanding attention.



Photographs by Sanjay Sharma

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