The seven-member high level expert committee headed by Sam Pitroda, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Information Infrastructure and Innovation, set up to revamp Prasar Bharati, has announced the formation of 11 working groups to review the public broadcaster and deal with crucial issues such as financial management, programming, technology, digitisation and manpower shortage. The announcement was made following the first meeting of the committee in New Delhi on February 5, 2013.
It may be recalled that the high-powered committee was set up by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) on January 29, 2013 to review the role of Prasar Bharati and its institutional framework and suggest measures to strengthen the public broadcaster, especially in the context of its relationship with the Government. It was also given a mandate to review the status of implementation of recommendations made regarding Prasar Bharati by the Sengupta, Bakshi and Narayanamurthy Committees. The panel comprises Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharati; Jitendra Shankar Mathur, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting; Asha Swarup, former Secretary, MIB; Dr BK Gairola, Mission Director (E-Governance); Shekhar Kapur, Member, Innovation Council; and Prof MP Gupta, IIT Delhi.
The 11 working groups set up by the committee will suggest a roadmap for enhancing the reach and potential of Prasar Bharati. According to Sam Pitroda, the working groups will submit white papers in 30-60 days and the entire exercise undertaken by the panel will take 4-6 months to complete. “We are looking at generational and not incremental change,” Pitroda said. The current thinking in the MIB is to make the public broadcaster more effective in reaching out to the people. The Pitroda Committee has been asked to suggest a strategy for creating a network of domestic and overseas business partners for ensuring wider reach to a worldwide audience, including creating an exclusive overseas service.
The most important working group is the one that will review Prasar Bharati’s relationship with the Government. Notwithstanding its stated position of a public broadcaster, Prasar Bharati is perceived as a ‘sarkari’ channel. Prasar Bharati’s relationship with the Government remains largely undefined. It may be recalled that the Narayanamurthy Committee had made a case for making Prasar Bharati independent of the Government and recommending financial and personnel independence. The Sengupta Committee, on the other hand, recommended adopting the BBC model, based on TV licensing fee.
Pitroda said that expert committee will study the BBC model as well as the model where direct Parliament subsidy is involved. The entire issue assumes significance as the Government spends close to Rs 1,800 crore annually on Doordarshan, whereas Prasar Bharati was created to work as a public broadcaster and it is essential to make it financially independent and sustaining. The working group on Business Development will study and recommend how it could be done without compromising with its public service mandate and without being dictated by market forces.
Separate ‘sarkari’ channel on the anvil?
On the one hand, the MIB proposes to strengthen Prasar Bharati as a public broadcaster and on the other hand, there are reports about the Ministry toying with the idea of launching a separate ‘sarkari’ channel. On November 30, 2012, the I&B Secretary had written to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), seeking recommendations on whether Centre and State Governments can launch their own channels. This had given rise to the speculation that the Government could be interested in reviewing the current policy that bars government ownership of channels. When exchange4media sought Pitroda’s comments on the possibility of launching a new ‘sarkari’ channel and running Doordarshan as an independent commercial venture, he did not comment beyond saying that expert committee was reviewing Prasar Bharati’s structure.
The Pitroda Panel is concerned about the fact that Prasar Bharati has not been able to keep pace with the technological developments. The group on Technology & Choices will examine it and suggest appropriate policies and processes for choice of appropriate technologies in a competitive environment. In today’s scenario, where the MIB is focusing on digitisation, Pitroda said that the focus will be on digitisation of information, to create new, socially relevant content and digitise and monetise archival material by making it available to the public. Prasar Bharati has already formed a committee under the chairmanship of Raghu Menon, former Secretary, MIB and a separate group under the Pitroda Panel will carry forward this initiative.
Programming and content is at the core of the Pitroda Committee, which has constituted a separate group with a view to attaining the twin objectives of a public broadcaster and a revenue generating commercially viable organisation. “DD National has been revamped in terms of better programming and packaging, and now an exercise is on to rebrand DD News with better content and better presentation,” said Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharati. Well known TV presenters such as Sanjeev Srivastava, Ajay Shukla and Gautam Roy have been recruited from the open market to beef up DD News. Pranjal Sharma has been brought in to spearhead Prasar Bharati’s social media initiative, for which a working group has been constituted under the Pitroda Committee. A special advertising budget has been earmarked to promote Doordarshan and its programming through print and online media, besides outdoor.
Prasar Bharati is, however, confronted with a more serious issue of manpower shortage. According to statistics available with Prasar Bharati, as many as 14,222 posts of programming, news, engineering and administrative staff are lying vacant as there has been no recruitment for the past 15-20 years. Both Doordarshan and All India Radio are not able to make optimum use of their vast infrastructure with the skeletal staff. Both the organisations are making do with casual recruitment and retired programming and news personnels are being re-employed. A separate group on Organisation & HR will take stock of this and suggest measures to meet these challenges.