Private television channels may soon have to loosen their purse strings to fund Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio (AIR) if a government committee has its way.
The committee to restructure national public broadcaster Prasar Bharati is working on the proposal, which is likely to irk the broadcasting industry.
The committee headed by national innovation council chairman Sam Pitroda believes that DD and AIR have been suffering losses since the entire responsibility of public service broadcasting lies with them. “Private channels are profit-oriented and have no public service obligation,” a government official said.
It wants private channels to pay a ‘public broadcast fee’ to the government, which will be used by DD and AIR to run social benefit programmes.
In the US, private broadcasters are required to provide money for public broadcasting through various methods, such as providing ad slots of 15-30 seconds. The UK’s British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) gets its money from licence fee that is levied on radio and television consumers. The Australian Broadcasting Company is government-funded, even though it is an autonomous body.
Star, Zee and Sony networks refused comment but some officials of some other channels agreed to speak off the record “We have public broadcast presented in an interesting manner. It is not boring and typecast as done by DD,” said a private channel official who did not want to be named.
A member of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation said the government cannot force private channels to make Prasar Bharati a viable model. “The public broadcaster has to find its own way to improve revenue,” he said.
The government had constituted Sam Pitroda committee to suggest ways to maintain Prasar Bharati’s autonomous status and have an independent financing mechanism.
Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari has ruled out the possibility of keeping Prasar Bharati free from government control if his ministry has to foot the bill. “Two-thirds of the I&B ministry's budget — Rs. 18.85 billion out of Rs. 28 billion — goes to Prasar Bharati. I am the recruiting authority, the disciplinary authority, the sanctioning authority. Yet, I am supposed to have them at arm's length. I am not God," he said.