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Change signal in I&B ministry

New Delhi, Jan. 31: Ravi Shankar Prasad stepped into the information and broadcasting ministry this afternoon and immediately set the tone for changes to follow saying, “Information has to be used as a tool for development.”

Prasad took over from Sushma Swaraj, who, in a farewell meet yesterday, claimed that one of her biggest successes lay in converting the ministry from “a propaganda wing of the government to a pro-active facilitator”.

He said All India Radio and Doordarshan had the maximum reach in the country and it would be his endeavour to use these media to bridge the gap between the information-saturated and the information-starved “with the key focus on development”.

He bristled when asked if he would reaffirm the commitment to autonomy and freedom to AIR and Doordarshan. “Development is not propaganda. I have said deliberately that the focus will be on information for development, not propaganda. What makes you apprehend otherwise'

“The Prime Minister said recently at the meeting of the National Development Council that the 10th Plan should be a ‘people’s plan’. It is also a reform plan. He has set an ambitious growth target of 8 per cent. Communication is a critical component for the success of this plan. I will try to ensure that our communication strategy is more effective so that I&B can play a critical role,” he said, minutes after taking over as minister of state (with independent charge).

Prasad said he will study the file on allowing foreign news channels to uplink from the country and seek a policy direction from the Cabinet.

On the recommendations of the Expenditure Reforms (Geethakrishnan) Commission that has suggested downsizing the ministry, he said: “On day one, I can only say I do not favour accepting the recommendations in toto. There might be a need for rightsizing, not downsizing.” “Rightsizing” was the phrase frequently used by Swaraj.

Prasad said he will try to ensure a consumer-friendly regime under the Conditional Access System that will enforce rules for pay-channel viewing and subscription. The implementation task force for the system is slated to meet on February 7.

— significantly, the task force comprises representatives of major operators and broadcasters but none form Star — to formulate the modalities for the CAS. The notification for the CAS has said it will be implemented in the four metros to begin with by July.

Prasad said one of his priorities will also be to address the issue of piracy with an “open mind so that the film industry, from where our revenues are growing, is suitably supported”.

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