Last week, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting earned a well-deserved and stinging rebuke for its non-serious approach towards reforming Prasar Bharati. A parliamentary standing committee admonished the ministry for doing precious little on its advice to review the institutional framework of the public broadcaster in collaboration with the Sam Pitroda committee. Far from taking meaningful steps, it left the matter of improving Prasar Bharati’s services entirely to its board and staff. Earlier this year, the government’s much-touted effort to improve DD News turned out to be a damp squib after one of the high-profile editors, brought in specially for this purpose, quit his job in disgust.
All this is because of a basic problem which the government has not been able to resolve. It professes to free Doordarshan and All India Radio from all government control. It was in pursuit of this that Prasar Bharati was set up. The government also does not want the broadcaster to go out of its control. Prasar Bharati is on paper an autonomous body but is financially supported almost wholly by the government. Though the government may not admit in public, it seems to believe in the dictum that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Hence, a hiatus between the government’s precept and its practice.
As long as it continues, Doordarshan and Akashvani will continue to be adjuncts of the I&B ministry. DD and AIR constitute the single largest media house in India, together covering nearly 100 per cent of the territory. Yet, it has been losing viewership and listenership, except when DD Sports enjoys exclusive rights over some sports events, mainly because of the staid manner in which they report news and events. Editorial independence, key to the success of any news organisation, therefore, remains a pipe dream for the Prasar Bharati staff. Unless the government reconciles its own contradictory approaches, there is no redemption for the public broadcaster.