Television

Against all odds, Prasar Bharati continues to swim upstream : Brigadier V A M Hussain Member (Personnel) Prasar Bharati

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An institution that has been the chronicler and mirror of India‘s history is feeling crippled. With a tenacious CEO under a dynamic Minister of Information & Broadcasting, it is striving to reinvent itself to meet the challenges of contemporary media scenario. Many new experiments are on to change the behemoth called Prasar Bharati that cost the exchequer a whopping Rs 150 crore every month. This public service media organisation is one of the oldest statutory bodies with a hoary past. It is under siege and calls for expeditious intervention to revive the glory of the old faithful that is All India Radio. Doordarshan, the audio-visual arm of Prasar Bharati is always in the public eye with viewers asking for more sumptuous and scintillating fare.

The Organisation is saddled with a disgruntled work force of about 50,000 who did not get a promotion for decades. To make matters worse, there was no attempt to infuse new blood in the system, either. An out-of-the-box solution is inescapable to break shackles of archaic regulation. The definition of autonomy needs to be revisited to meet the upheavals on the audio- visual landscape, in recent years. Section 33 of the Prasar Bharati Act directs prior government approval for all regulations governing conditions of service. Every employee appointed before October 2007 is considered a government servant on deemed deputation and their promotion is in government ambit. Instead of being a nimble, vibrant media organisation driven by merit, seniority and ‘babudom’ rule the roost. Proposal for a Prasar Bharati Recruitment Board as mandated by the Act of Parliament vide Sections 9 and 10 of The Prasar Bharati Act 1990 is gathering dust in files while government persisted in stalling promotions and new recruitments for two decades now. In effect, Prasar Bharati is like a ship caught in the turbulent waters in the mid sea with none to care on the shore for the SOS of the ship-wrecked crew. Merit and flexible structures are essential for a dynamic and extremely competitive media sector. Meeting the content needs of 750 million people through regional and national infra structure and boosting DTH and terrestrial audience are complex challenges, CEO Jawhar Sircar faces, along with ‘Sarkar‘, the real power.

A recent experiment showed how independence in Prasar Bharati can make an impact. A truly independent team with young professionals in DD News prime time has rattled the industry with ratings showing an upswing.

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A recent experiment showed how independence in Prasar Bharati can make an impact. A truly independent team with young professionals in DD News prime time has rattled the industry with ratings showing an upswing. Doordarshan launched a big advertising campaign for the revamped time bands of DD News, DD National and DD Urdu. This was the first such campaign in decades. A little more attention and circumspection are needed at AIR too which got maligned unfortunately by recent media reports of alleged harassment of its women Radio Jockeys. It is staring at a PIL now. FM Gold channel, with practically no permanent staff, earns substantial revenue for the entire AIR network while private FM channels are yearning for popularity with smart young professionals even in small towns and villages. The recently appointed Sam Pitroda Committee has set itself tasks suggesting visible changes for reviving Prasar Bharati. There is a wealth of data and content in archives that can propel AIR to the top of the charts. The expert groups are offering many practical suggestions and initiatives on many fronts including technology, content management, financial independence, government relations and human resources. Dr. Pitroda believes that generational change can be brought about by radical thinking instead of mere cosmetic changes.

The financial situation continues to be precarious for Prasar Bharati with complex legacies. An unprepared bureaucracy opted for accrual system of accounting and enforced income tax while loans in perpetuity and penal interests soared.The government rescued Prasar Bharati by writing off large sums due as segment hiring and space spectrum charges incurred in the course of broadcasting mandated content, non commercial in nature. Income tax claims stand withdrawn while local bodies continue levying the public broadcaster with huge taxes on property of Union of India but Prasar Bharati has just been permitted use of the government emblem. This is a paradox since 50,000 salaried employees of government are using these assets for functions statutorily assigned by an Act of Parliament. Welcome initiatives of the GOM relieved Prasar Bharati from its financial crystal maze for now by converting loans in perpetuity as grants.

The need of the hour is to professionalise Prasar Bharati with content-driven channels and professional-driven management owing total allegiance to Prasar Bharati to meaningfully accomplish objectives that were originally dreamt and scripted by the authors of an autonomous public service broadcaster. The dream is worth realising.

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Apprehensions often raised on the need for a government-funded national public broadcaster are ill-founded. We need an unbiased institution to bench mark initiatives on information, education and entertainment. At the same time, the government needs a media window to show case its policies, initiatives and views by running its own video and audio channels. Government staffing of DD News and AIR News Service Division through Indian Information Service is controlled by the Ministry. The easiest course would be to sever the current nebulous association with Prasar Bharati and declare them government channels on the lines of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TVs and leave Prasar Bharati to professionalise with autonomy.

The efforts of the government to empower through The Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act 2007 get breached frequently. Private business houses that own broadcasting rights of World Cricket tours use pre-embedded feeds of commercials and cause losses in hundreds of crore to Doordarshan. Expeditious amendments would help Prasar Bharati and the government. Despite its huge work force, Prasar Bharati has inadequate structure of professionals managing its own security, assets, property, content, new media, revenue and marketing at the highest levels. The need of the hour is to professionalise Prasar Bharati with content-driven channels and professional-driven management owing total allegiance to Prasar Bharati to meaningfully accomplish objectives that were originally dreamt and scripted by the authors of an autonomous public service broadcaster. The dream is worth realising.

Will the Committee of Sam Pitroda be able to persuade the government to truly empower Prasar Bharati? On thoughts like this, we often remember Baba Amte’s saying "Faith is the promise of tomorrow" while the swimming upstream by Prasar Bharati continues.

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