Prasar Bharti Revamp

Introduction

Today, we have more than 800 channels in our country, out of which around 185 channels are paid channels. Thus, Television in India is a huge industry. Doordarshan with its motto “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” was founded by Government of India in 1959. This was the modest beginning whereby, the terrestrial broadcast started in Delhi in 1960s and then was extended to the metropolitan cities. In 1975, only seven cities of India had Television. Doordarshan was started as a part of All India Radio until it was separated from it in 1976. The terrestrial transmissions continued till 1982 when National Telecast was introduced. In 1982, the Asian Games helped in bringing the color TV. The Doordarshan expanded and remained the solve provider of the television service till 1991. The times changed and private TV channels were allowed in 1991. Till that time, Doordarshan reached to 90% of the population of India. After the entry of private channels, there was a steep decline in the viewership.

This article deals with the following two important questions:

  • What are the reasons of steep fall of popularity of Doordarshan? What is Prasar Bharti and what is its relevance? There has been a bill for amendment of the Prasar Bharti Act, what is that?
  • In recent times, Cable TV Digitization has taken place. We have to understand its basics and implications.

Prasar Bharti and Issue of State Control

We all know that unlike BBC, which is independent, the Prasar Bharti, which is parent body of Doordarshan, has all its board members appointed by the Broadcasting Ministry. During the emergency as well as other times, Doordarshan was actively used for government propaganda.

There was a demand that the mis-use of the Radio and Television by the Government must be stopped. The initial steps were taken by Janta Government in 1977, which appointed a B G Varghese Committee to suggest a remedy.
In 1978, this committee submitted its report in which it suggested that there should be an independent National Broadcasting Trust (Akash Bharti) which covers both the All India Radio as well as Doordarshan. The Akash Bharati should have a constitutional backing and it should be a parallel independent body just like the Indian Judiciary! This was a bold recommendation, must ahead of its times because even today, it cannot become a reality. So, government threw the report in dustbin.

In 1979, a bill was introduced in the parliament by LK Advani, the then information and Broadcasting minister. This 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 along with the Janta Government.

The congress government did not re-introduce the lapsed bill of its previous government. They appointed a 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 borrowed some of the articles from the previous bill introduced by Advani and also added some new ethos as per the changed scenario.

This 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 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, a 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”, 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 of the above story 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 extending the deadlines time and again. Finally Prasar Bharti came into being in 1997. Prasar Bharati is a statutory autonomous body established under the Prasar Bharati Act and came into existence on 23.11.1997. It is the Public Service Broadcaster of the country. Today, Prasar Bharti works as an independent body but still needs some changes.

Sam Pitroda Committee on Prasar Bharti Revamp

In early 2013, government formed a committee headed by technocrat Sam Pitroda to strengthen and expand the role of public broadcaster Prasar Bharati, with an emphasis on its relationship with the government. This is a seven member committee. It would review the current institutional framework of Prasar Bharati and would suggest measures to ensure technical upgradation of the organisation. The committee will recommend the ways to digitise the archival material with Doordarshan and All India Radio, including material from Independence days, and develop enabling infrastructure, in the form of data digitalisation systems, data centres and networks.

It will also review the status of implementation of recommendations made by various committees that have undertaken studies on Prasar Bharati — the Sengupta Committee, the Bakshi Committee and the Narayanamurthy Committee — and suggest a road map for enhancing the reach and potential of the broadcaster.

Structure of the Prasar Bharati Board

  1. Prasar Bharati Board consists of:
  2. Chairman
  3. One Executive Member
  4. One Member (Finance)
  5. One Member (Personnel)
  6. Six Part-time Members
  7. Director-General (Akashvani), ex-officio
  8. Director-General (Doordarshan), ex-officio
  9. One representative of the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (India), to be nominated by that Ministry and
  10. Two representatives of the employees of the Corporation, of whom one shall be elected by the engineering staff from amongst themselves and one shall be elected by the other employee from amongst themselves.

The President of India appoints Chairman and the other Members, except the ex-officio members, nominated member and the elected members. The Board shall meet not be less than six meetings every year but three months shall not intervene between one meeting and the next meeting.

Conclusion:

  • Prasar Bharti is a national public trust whose purpose and functions are spelt out in Section 12 of the PB Act, 1990. Most important among them is “safeguarding the citizen’s right to be informed freely, truthfully and objectively on all matters of public interest, national or international, and presenting affair and balanced flow of information, including contrasting views, without advocating any opinion or ideology of its own”.
  • Grant of autonomy is just one, there is an array of reforms being urged in the Prasar Bharti. The first reform is of a more professional approach to newscasting, for which Sam Pitroda panel was set up.
  • Regarding funding reforms, the PB Act requires Parliament to make due appropriations for PB which is accountable to it through the Ministry of I&B and its annual report. Additional funding is permitted through broadcast receiver licence fees, currently not levied, commercial broadcasting, sale of programmes, etc. Here, we must note that PB Act permits the Corporation to levy fees for all external and monitoring services in the same manner as the BBC is funded by the Foreign Office for its external services. Although, the Broadcast information is a service like the supply of electricity, water and telephony; yet unlike the others, it is generally seen a free good.
  • Broadcasting is a hardware-led business driven by transmitters and relay stations along with human resources such as engineers, staff, reporters etc. Prasarbharti has been left to suffer lack of all these. Prasar Bharti has little ability to cover the reach and report the happenings in India leave alone the foreign countries. Even if we wish to know what is happening in Sri Lanka or Pakistan or Bangladesh, we need to turn on CNN or BBC. In the same way, its is incapacity of Prasar Bharti due to which India’s voice is barely listened abroad.

The PB Act calls on the Corporation to take such steps as it thinks fit “to establish a system for the gathering of news for radio and television”. This is something PB is well placed to do, nationally and globally. It needs to build its own oral and audio-visual news services that provide an additional, standard-setting, third major news service for a country of a greater size and diversity than all of Europe (plus Russia) and North America combined. Standard-setting is important in the light of the editorialised and sensationalised new reportage current today and phenomena like “paid news”. (with inputs from an Article by Shri VB Verghese on his site)

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