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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Explained: Squeezed in DD

On why the national broadcaster may not merely be going through the kind of journalistic bad patch that all news organisations dread.

Written by Archna Shukla | Updated: December 9, 2014 11:56:23 am

A reporter’s recent gaffes at the Goa film festival was the second severe embarrassment on air for Doordarshan after an anchor referred to China’s President Xi Jinping as ‘Eleven Jinping’.

Were the two journalists just having a terrible day?

The real problem seems to be the acute shortage of trained personnel. Doordarshan officials say that most recent blunders, including calling Xi “Eleven”, were made by casual reporters and anchors hired on a temporary basis. The many zones and departments in DD hire anchors as and when they have a vacancy, without any central guidelines to follow. These temporary hires often lack journalistic competence or even a general awareness. They are also frequently poorly trained, because there aren’t enough senior personnel around to train them. “The anchor who hosted IFFI, for instance, went on air after all of two hours’ training, which focused mainly on technical issues and not on the content of her report. She was given no detailed brief on how to conduct herself on air,” a DD official said.

How severe is the staff crunch?

Extremely severe. According to CEO Jawhar Sircar, close to 20,000 posts are currently vacant in Prasar Bharati. “More than 8,000 of these vacancies are in Doordarshan,” he said, adding that the bulk of DD’s staff currently are engineers and technicians, not journalists. “The main crunch is in the programming and content departments,” Sircar said. There are only 10 station directors in DD at the moment, when there should be 191. Even of those 10, two will retire in the next few months. Station directors are key to good content — they are the people who ensure that anchors and other programming executives are trained before they go on air, and who regularly monitor content across channels. DD, Sircar said, is therefore, squeezed at both ends: it doesn’t have enough junior staff and is forced to hire casual reporters, and it also doesn’t have the senior staff to train these casual employees.

So why isn’t Doordarshan hiring?

Promotions and hirings have been stuck for the past 20 years because of a stand-off between the government and the UPSC. Prasar Bharati was set up as a corporation which, according to UPSC, makes it a public sector undertaking. UPSC’s argument has been that it doesn’t have the mandate to hire for or promote people in a PSU. But the government insists that Prasar employees should be treated on a par with government employees until a formal solution to the problem is found. To resolve the immediate crisis, the government recently mandated the Staff Selection Commission to hire 3,000 junior employees for Prasar.

But if Prasar Bharati is autonomous, why is the government hiring for it?

The Prasar Bharati Act, 1990, provided for a Prasar Bharati Recruitment Board that would independently hire personnel for the public broadcaster. Twenty four years later, the board is yet to be set up. Insiders allege that successive governments have refused to set up the board as that would mean losing control over hiring and firing, besides granting complete autonomy to the public broadcaster in effect. Besides, Prasar Bharati has not been able to generate enough revenue, and the government continues to foot the bill, a situation the latter uses to justify its interference in the functioning of the public broadcaster. “Prasar Bharati is anything but autonomous. Not only salaries, promotions and appraisals too are at the mercy of the government,” said a senior DD official.

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