Television

Pitroda Committee: Prasar Bharati should be free of govt hold

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NEW DELHI:  A high-level committee under veteran technocrat Sam Pitroda set up to review the working of Prasar Bharati has stressed the need for constituting a Parliamentary Committee, as originally envisaged in the Prasar Bharati Act 1990 to ensure that the pubcaster discharges its duties in accordance with the provisions of the Act and Government defined duties.

In the report submitted today to the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Manish Tewari, it has recommended reorganisation of the pubcaster Board to make it a professionally managed body and make it more effective in guiding the organisation.

Noting that Prasar Bharati’s vision must be to become a genuine ‘public broadcaster’ as against a ‘government broadcaster’, Pitroda told a press meet after submission of the report that he would be meeting both Tewari and I&B Secretary Bimal Julka next week to finalise those steps in the report which can be put into effect immediately.

The report said there is need to bring in complete transfer of ownership and management of assets and Human Resource to Prasar Bharati ‘to make the organisation administratively and financially autonomous of Government’.

A Regulatory Body has to be set up to ensure public accountability of Prasar Bharati with respect to all content broadcast on its television and radio networks. The Regulatory Body should be a sub-committee of the Prasar Bharati Board.

Interestingly, the Committee has suggested setting up of Prasar Bharati Connect (PBC) as the third arm of the public service broadcaster, independent of Doordarshan and All India Radio, to expand the social media. PBC should be mandated to manage the various Social Media initiatives of all the wings of Prasar Bharati. It also wants a Social Media Strategy of Prasar Bharati.

The Committee was set up on 28 January last year and had decided to put in place eleven working groups on different issues and has come out with a report on eight main areas: governance and organisation, funding, human resource, content, technology, archiving, social media and global outreach.

It has said that in addition to the public broadcasting function, there is a distinct requirement for the State to broadcast messages and accomplishments of public interest which can be met by using existing Public and Private broadcaster infrastructure.

The Committee suggests amending the 1990 Act where necessary so as to impart genuine and effective autonomy to the organisation.

Apart from Pitroda, who is Advisor to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovation and Chairman of the National Innovation Council, the other members of the committee included additional secretary and nominated Prasar Bharati Board member J S Mathur, National Innovation Council member Shekhar Kapur, former I&B Secretary Asha Swarup, Vikram Kaushik who is a business strategist and brand advisor and part-time member on the Prasar Bharati Board; Prof M P Gupta from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, Dr B K Gairola who is Mission Director (e-Governance), and Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar who was the Convenor.

Pitroda said that about 110 persons gave time to the working groups on various issues. There are 26 main recommendations in the two–volume report.

Referring to Funding, the report says there is need to undertake a professional study to develop a funding mechanism for Prasar Bharati that addresses the need for autonomy with financial accountability. Such a funding model should include government funding, internal resource mobilisation and private investment. There is need to monetise all available archival and other assets of Prasar Bharati as soon as possible to enhance funding, and augment funding of social messaging through cross-subsidising such content through entertainment-led programming and by co-opting industry through their CSR budgets.

However, Pitroda said in reply to a question that the time of licensing TV or radio sets as was being done around five decades earlier could not be revived as it was an old concept.

Referring to Human Resource, he said the pubcaster should be enabled with the power to frame rules and regulations for its employees without seeking prior approval of the Government.

When it was pointed out that a similar announcement has been made several times since 1997 when the Act was operationalised, Sircar said the pubcaster cannot frame its own rules.

There was need to undertake a comprehensive manpower audit and HR planning exercise to map workforce requirements for the future in line with Prasar Bharati’s mandate.

It was necessary to supplement manpower audit with a re-deployment plan that addresses training, re-skilling and promotion of existing manpower through an institutionalised modern appraisal system.

The committee said there was need to create an effective recruitment system to attract the best talent and allow the hiring of skilled professionals, and encourage and initiate steps for absorption of Government employees as fulltime employees of Prasar Bharati, after an appropriate screening process. The ones who remain in Government may be considered for absorption in other departments within the government as is done in other cases.

Referring to content, he stressed the need to scale up allocation of funds for content generation to 50 per cent of the total expenditure within a period of 5 to 7 years. The Committee wants a review of all existing channels and content of DD and AIR, based on their relevance, output and viability and phase out those where there is sub-optimal utilisation of resources.

There should be encouragement of outsourcing of content creation to external producers to attract high quality and diverse programming and creation of distinct brand identities for different TV and Radio channels, and define the content strategy for each.

Referring to technology, the Committee wants expansion of the satellite and digital cable TV operations to meet the obligation of public service broadcasting. There is need to digitalise the present AM radio system to a new digital radio transmission after due evaluation subject to cost and availability of DRM receivers. In the transition period, FM may be expanded according to demand.

It stressed the need to selectively digitalise terrestrial TV operations based on commercial viability.

Any further expansion of and investment in digital terrestrial telecast should be suitably evaluated after field reviews and assessment of developments in the telecom sector, it said.

Interestingly, the Committee wanted involvement of the private sector to expand the broadcasting market with a view to effectively utilise the infrastructure being built by Prasar Bharati to enable faster growth in the receiver ecosystem.

On archives, it recommended state-of-the-art digital archives for consolidating and preserving DD and AIR's content: both existing as well as that being currently generated. There is expansion of scope to make it the National Audio-Visual Archives so as to consolidate and support all other government initiatives.

The Committee wants the creation of dedicated, multi-platform channels for dissemination of Prasar Bharati's archival products: for both open access and monetisation.

Referring to global outreach, it wanted the creation of a world-class broadcasting service benchmarked with the best in the world using next-generation opportunities, technologies, business models and strategies.

When pointed out that DD India was already working as an international channel, Pitroda said the platform should be designed for new media first and then extended to conventional TV.

There was need to outline an effective content strategy for Prasar Bharati's global platforms (TV and Radio) focused on projecting the national view rather than the narrow official viewpoint.

In a covering note to the Minister, the Committee said: “Today, we have a unique window of opportunity to transform our broadcasting service (both All India Radio and Doordarshan) into a cutting-edge platform capable of delivering its commitment to public service in the best possible manner, while keeping pace with the competitive needs of the 21st Century.  However, as our report suggests, this transformation will require a bold, clear vision, a focus on generational change, and new models and approaches in every aspect of the public service broadcaster's activities.

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