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The autonomy of Prasar Bharati is still a joke

Prasar Bharati board has a chairman and part-time members appointed by the Central government.

D P Satish | dp_satish

Updated:May 3, 2014, 2:25 PM IST
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The autonomy of Prasar Bharati is still a joke
Prasar Bharati board has a chairman and part-time members appointed by the Central government.
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New Delhi: India's national broadcaster Doordarshan (DD) is in the news again for all the wrong reasons. The controversy over alleged editing of the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi's interview to DD has led to a huge controversy prompting the Prasar Bharati CEO Jawahar Sircar to issue a clarification indirectly accusing the Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari of interfering in the running of DD. A well respected bureaucrat, Sircar took on Tewari as he said that the minister failed in granting "operational autonomy" to the public broadcaster that it has been seeking for years.

He even admitted on Friday that a few portions of the interview given by Modi were edited. The interview triggered a huge controversy as it was alleged that Modi referred to Priyanka Gandhi as her daughter. Reacting to Jawahar Sircar's criticism, I&B Minister Manish Tewari has clarified that an act of Parliament guarantees autonomy of the Prasar Bharati and the minister keeps an arm length's distance with its affairs.

Even though all these points are believable, the reality speaks of an entirely different situation.

The Prasar Bharati website says, "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. The objectives of public service broadcasting are achieved in terms of Prasar Bharati Act through All India Radio and Doordarshan, which earlier were working as media units under the Ministry of I&B and since the above said date became constituents of Prasar Bharati."

The Prasar Bharati board has a chairman and part-time members appointed by the Central government. Most of them are people from the 'intellectual' class who are close to the ruling party. Its full time members are all serving government employees and sent to Prasar Bharati on deputation.

According to a senior DD employee who just retired as a director with Prasar Bharati, except the CEO, all other employees are on deputation to Prasar Bharati from the I&B Ministry. Since these employees are still I&B Ministry employees, they actually listen to the government of the day.

The Directors General of DD and All India Radio (AIR) are also government employees. Normally, a senior IAS officer of an additional secretary rank heads DD as its Director General. The All India Radio Director General is normally a senior officer from the Indian Information and Broadcasting Service. All of them are controlled by the Ministry of Personnel. They are Prasar Bharati employees only on paper. In reality, there is no difference between them and other employees of the government.

"How can they be autonomous? The claims of the government that the Prasar Bharati is autonomous is a joke. If the government is serious, it should run it like a Constitutional body," says another senior employee with DD.

According to him, from the I&B Ministry to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), government routinely interferes in the day to day affairs of DD and All India Radio. On most occasions, the top executives of DD and AIR themselves hobnob with the government for better posting and post retirement benefits.

In an article in the 'New Indian Express' dated July 8, 2010 eminent journalist BG Verghese wrote, "The philosophy that government knows best is reflected in the regulation that the CEO, the two DGs and the directors of personnel and finance shall preferably be drawn from within the ranks of the government (the cadre control authority being the Department of Personnel, not Prasar Bharati or PB). Why not the best person from anywhere? PB needs restructuring. But it must first be rescued from the limbo in which  finds itself or from euthanasia. Truly autonomous and decentralised public service broadcasting has a vital role to play in promoting dialogue and empowerment, culture and creativity in India seeking to forge unity out of diversity. The GoM has a bigger task ahead of it than most of its members probably realise. There is much wisdom to be tapped outside government. So let not the exercise be conducted within a closed shop but with imagination and faith in the people of India."

Till the time all Prasar Bharati employees are directly recruited by Prasar Bharati and they are not controlled by the Ministry of Personnel, it will continue to function like propaganda trumpets of the government, be it a Congress led government or a BJP led government or a Third Front government.

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