Television

Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar pooh-poohs 'budget hike' reports

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NEW DELHI: The Indian pubcaster has been a soft target since time immemorial. In the light of media articles citing ratings data by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, which say that Doordarshan’s viewership has been poor despite a hike in budget and hiring of expert consultants, Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar pooh-poohs it all. 

 

In an exclusive interaction with Indiantelevision.com, Sircar informs that the pubcaster has not even received full reimbursement of government salaries for employees recruited prior to October 2007.

 

Sircar goes on to point out that as per a decision by the then Group of Ministers (GoM), which was looking into the financial status of Prasar Bharati, it had been decided during the tenure of the previous government that the Central Government will bear the salaries and other allowances of all employees in service as on 5 October, 2007.

 

Sircar says, “As a result, our own revenue funds that are meant for ‘Content’ have gone to meet this salary gap.” He said that Prasar Bharati had been stressing this fact for the past three years. However, it seems like its voice fell on deaf ears.

 

At the outset, Sircar says, “I still cannot understand why some people are always raising this question of “hike in budget”? What budget? All the money we get is for paying salaries of 29,000 government servants, who were recruited by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry some 30 to 35 years ago. The government has to pay their salaries as long as they are in service and Prasar Bharati is mainly their administering body and the Ministry passes this salary bill on to Prasar Bharati, who had to engage these persons to disburse their government-scale salaries, without any leeway or choice.”

 

He added that while the Ministry used to set aside a sum of approximately Rs 80 - 100 crore for several years for creating content for “special areas,” this funding had also stopped, leaving behind several liabilities. 

 

With the choked fund pipeline for content, Sircar asks, “How does content improve? One way out is to offer our ‘time bands’ to external producers provided they cover our costs.” 

 

“We are waiting patiently for our funds to be returned. Since these issues are coming out publicly through vague terms like ‘an I&B Ministry official said,’ I would welcome an open debate on this question though we prefer to discuss these matters across the table. But after all, DD is a public institution and it is ready to face any public scrutiny,” Sircar opines.

 

No longer in a mood to take things lying down, Sircar posed a few pertinent questions:

 

1) Can we cut down costs on the huge infrastructure, some of which appears to be meaningless?

 

2) Do we really need to have analogue TV transmission in this satellite age?

 

3) Why do we spend so much to strengthen short wave and medium wave radio, when it is FM that is in demand?

 

“I have raised these questions as no one was raising them and many in this organization are not happy at all,” he adds.

 

Specifically referring to the media reports, he says, “If the programmes that DD has paid for (‘Commissioned’ or ‘SFC’ in DD’s language) do not appear to be attracting enough eyeballs, then we have to reach out to better producers like we used to do for MahabharatRamayan and Buniyaad, etc. DD did not produce its own programmes then or did not decide to pay or commission producers to make programmes for DD. We are seriously thinking about it. But we will have to go over this option very carefully.”

 

Drawing a comparison between the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Indian pubcaster, Sircar says, “There is a box in the news that advises DD to stay out of the numbers game and become a popular brand distinction like BBC. Do you have any idea of what this means? Every British citizen pays Rs 15,000 per year for the BBC’s quality programmes. But in India, Prasar Bharati struggles to earn its ‘content funds’ through content generated revenue against fierce competition.”

 

According to Sircar, as per calculations done by the Sam Pitroda Committee, in India the cost per person works out to a mere 31 cents or approximately Rs 20 by way of support to Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR). “BBC gets Rs 35,000 crore per year from the exchequer,” he adds. 

 

Signing off, Sircar says, “So why do we make such meaningless comparisons and indulge in wishful thinking?”

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