B.G. Verghese Committee
The Janta Government had appointed a Working Group on the autonomy of the Akashwani and Doordarshan in August 1977. The chairman of this committee was B.G. Verghese. The committee submitted its report on February 24, 1978. This committee’s main recommendation was “formation of Akash Bharti or the “National Broadcasting Trust“, both for the AIR and Doordarshan. The committee noted that the people want an independent corporation because, the executive, abetted by a captive parliament, shamelessly misused the Broadcasting during emergency and this must be prevented for all times.
Such was the bold recommendation of this committee, which wanted substantial “Constitutional Safeguards” for the recommended body. But these recommendations could not find favour of even Janta rulers. The minister (LK Advani) commented:
“The committee has recommended the creation of an independent, constitutional entity, parallel to the Judiciary on which the legislature has no control. No we can not accept it”.
The result was that the report was “sent to hell”.
This followed a bill in May 1979 introduced by LK Advani, who was information and Broadcasting minister in the Government. The bill proposed the “Autonomous Corporation” known as Prasar Bharti for both AIR and Doordarshan. But the bill was introduced in the compromised state, rejecting the provisions of the constitutional safeguards. Meanwhile the Lok Sabha dissolved guaranteeing the death of this bill.
After that Congress was back in power, but it did not considered necessary to reintroduce such bill. Though it appointed PC Joshi Committee in 1982, whose main term of reference was to prepare a software plan for Doordarshan. But this group also emphasized on the absence of “Functional Freedom” in Prasar Bharti. This committee said that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should be reorganized and a separate board on the lines of Railway Board should be created, in which only people with professional experience should get entry.
So, slowly a consensus developed for a Television Authority of India -as a public trust and under the control of the parliament and officed with only experienced professionals.
In 1989, the National Front government came into power. It introduced Prasar Bharti Bill in December 1989. The bill was introduced by P Upendra, the minister, who borrowed some of the articles from the previous bill introduced by Advani and also added some new ethos as per the changed scenario.
The Prasar Bharti Bill, moved by the VP Singh Government got the confidence of BJP, Leftists and Congress as well and was passed in Lok Sabha in August 1990. This was included in the election manifesto of the NF (National Front) Government, so we can imagine how difficult it must have been for the coalition government to get the support of the Congress, BJP and the lefts.
However, all of them thoroughly indulged in amelioration and 400 amendments were moved :) Out of these 65 were accepted.
So, to provide for the establishment of Broadcasting Corporation for India, to be known as Prasar Bharati, to define its composition, functions and powers and to proved for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto, the Prasar Bharti Act was passed. Now from April 1, 1991, it was to be given the president’s assent and the Prasar Bharti Corporation was to begin functioning from that date. But the Government changed meanwhile and the Chandrasekhar Government maintained status quo.
In 1992, the Information and Broadcasting ministry of PV Narsihma Rao government noted down that “the time has changed now” and this mooted the idea of the autonomy of electric media. This had actually followed the coverage of Gulf war in 1991 by CNN. People wanted to see more channels.
In September 1991, the Narsimharao Government set up a Vardan committee, under K A Vardan, the additional secretary in I& B Ministry. This committee recommended that a second channel of Doorsharshan should be leased out in 4 metro and some FM stations should also be leased out.
So, now the Government was in dilemma. On the one side it was to liberalize the media, on the other side it did not want to lose the clutches over Doordarshan and Akashwani, which were actually a source of propaganda plus revenue for the Government.
But the credibility of Doordarshan had already fallen and now it was to face the invasion of the global media. The Government could implement the Prasar Bharti Act, and infuse professionalism to bring back its credibility, but it was not done.
Under the new policies the Narsimharao government allowed private and foreign broadcasters to engage in limited operations in India. Foreign channels like CNN, Star TV and domestic channels such as Zee TV and Sun TV started satellite broadcasts.
Meanwhile, some more experiments were done. The National Programming staff of Doordarshan took over the programming for DD Metro. The Metro channel was moved from 4 to 18 cities and now DD3, DD4, DD5 and DD6 were rolled out. In march 1995, an satellite based channel started broadcasting abroad.
But still, the condition of Doordarshan was not improved. Later KP Singh Deo, I & B Minister said that the invasion of the foreign media would be responded with an indigenous programming strategy. During this time also, the government never tried to get the act notified. The result was that “Prasar Bharti was “slaughtered in the market” as this author says, and Indian viewers were hijacked by the satellite channels , both foreign and domestics.
Among the new experiments it was an “Air Time Committee of India” that was proposed to lay down the procedure for allotment of slots in DD and AIR in 1993. But it was shelved later.
The summary is that “State control” was anyhow continued and this ensured that DD remains just a Government propaganda channel. K. P. Singh Deo ,though made repeated statements that Government was serious about implementing the Prasar Bharati Act, but practically was not serious about granting autonomy to Akashwani and Doordarshan. So this was a time for “tarikh par tarikh… tarikh par tarikh” extending the deadlines time and again. Finally Prasar Bharti came into being in 1997.
Prasar Bharti works as an independent body but still needs some changes. There is an amendment bill pending at present.