Prasar push for freedom from control

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  • Published 2.10.13

New Delhi, Oct. 1: Prasar Bharati has requested the Centre to free the news sections of Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) from bureaucratic control and get them run by media professionals instead.

The proposal, part of a larger plan aimed at securing greater economy for the public broadcaster, was made in a resolution the Prasar Bharati board passed recently. It said the ministry should help ensure professionalism by amending rules to permit professionals to join as director-generals and additional-director generals of AIR and DD.

Another issue was “dual control” over the news divisions. This, the board resolution said, happens because of the total control of the ministry over Indian Information Service (IIS) officers — a specialised cadre of bureaucrats who run the divisions — “without the scantiest of regard for Prasar Bharati”.

Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar asserted that the goal was maximum autonomy. “We are clear in believing that only good media professionals can bring the kind of professionalism and content to put us on a par with competitors,” the former Bengal cadre IAS officer, who had recently written to the ministry complaining of too much interference and lack of support, said.

The latest proposal on handing over the news reins to professionals doesn’t seem to have gone down well with the ministry, headed by the Congress’s Manish Tewari, with sources saying the plan “could not even be taken seriously at the moment”.

“We have received a communication from Prasar Bharati and the matter is to undergo thorough deliberations. But it seems unlikely this demand can be fulfilled. A public broadcaster cannot be modelled like private news broadcasters,” said a senior ministry official.

One instance of perceived interference cited by Sircar is the manner in which journalist Ajai Shukla, hired earlier this year to revamp talk show Newsnight on DD News, had to leave within a month of joining.

“We feel rather choked in this (the issue of dual control over the news divisions) regard…the manner in which a first-rate professional, Ajai Shukla, was hounded out through an order issued at the instance of the ministry on a day on which I was on tour…. this is just one example, there are many more,” Sircar said in his recent letter to the ministry complaining of interference.

Sources said the Newsnight makeover plan became a big bone of contention between the ministry and broadcaster as the government felt too much importance was given to Opposition voices on the show. With Shukla’s exit, experts believe DD News has gone back to being a government mouthpiece rather than an objective broadcaster.

Prasar Bharati has other grievances too. It been asking the ministry to clear a long-pending proposal for a Prasar Bharati recruitment board, mandatory under the Prasar Bharati Act, and sanction the minimum number of posts it requires to function properly.

Another demand is to amend a law, the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Act, under which live telecast of events of national importance has to be shared with Doordarshan.