Saturday, Nov 29, 2014

Unshackling Prasar Bharati

As India is in transition from rural to urban, agriculture  to industry, local to global, information is the key  to empowerment and social awareness. File Photo As India is in transition from rural to urban, agriculture to industry, local to global, information is the key to empowerment and social awareness. File Photo
Written by B G Verghese | Posted: February 19, 2014 12:37 am | Updated: February 19, 2014 9:40 am

The Sam Pitroda committee report offers a starting point.

India is in dire need of broadcast autonomy, especially in the form of a truly autonomous, even if state-assisted, public service broadcaster. This was a promise made by Nehru to Parliament in 1948. But  it is yet to be redeemed. The post-Emergency 1977-78 broadcast autonomy committee, in its report “Akash Bharati”, presented a blueprint for autonomy. That was dumbed down by the Janata government and a Prasar Bharati bill was finally enacted in 1990, brought into force in 1997 and emasculated almost ab initio.

What the government wanted, with cross-party political support, was some kind of official trumpet. Despite brave efforts to make something of it, Prasar Bharati (PB) has not lived up to its charter that few, if any, have even read. PB’s biodata makes for dismal reading.

It is probably the largest public broadcaster in the world, with a staff of 31,621 full-time and 7,269 part-time (mostly government) employees. DD operates 21 channels and AIR has a network of 326 broadcast stations. The engineering and technical services are numerically dominant and no more than 15 per cent of the budget is devoted to programme content, as against 60-80 per cent by other major international broadcasters. Radio has been downgraded and AIR reduced to a poor relative.

The country has over 800 TV channels and 500 FM channels that are only permitted limited news coverage. Community broadcasting, long discouraged, is only now coming into its own. It was, therefore, with much hope and expectation that the appointment of a new expert committee was announced, under Sam Pitroda and seven domain experts, a year ago. That report is now in, but has been virtually ignored in public discussion.

The main recommendation is that PB “needs to be adequately empowered and enabled” with independent professionals and financial self-reliance to “unleash its creative forces” beyond the market as a true voice of India, its ethos, culture and aspirations in order to become a genuine public broadcaster rather than remain a “government broadcaster”.

Stress is rightly laid on appropriate mechanisms to confer financial and personnel autonomy on PB. There is gross overstaffing and staff must become employees and not allowed to remain government servants, a pernicious legacy of official control. The board should be professionally managed; there must be a complete transfer of ownership and management of all assets and human resources to PB to make it independent; funding should come from the government, internal resource mobilisation, including monetising the tremendous archival assets of AIR and DD; private investment in production; and by “co-opting industry through CSR budgets.

There is need to digitise radio and TV; create a continued…

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