A top panel of secretaries has told Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make public broadcasters Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio (AIR) corporate entities to reduce their dependence on government funds and give them elbow room to take decisions.
If accepted, the move will give the two entities run by Prasar Bharati the much needed flexibility and financial independence, on the lines of the BBC.
“The idea is to make them corporate entity but under government control,” said a senior bureaucrat.
In their January 3 presentation on the “transport and communication” sector, the panel — part of the 10 sectoral groups constituted by the PM to do a mid-term review of major programmes, review autonomous bodies and give ideas on the 2017-18 budget — also recommended reviewing the existence of Prasar Bharati, which runs AIR and Doordarshan.
“If AIR and DD are made corporate entities, Prasar Bharati may not be required,” the panel told the PM.
Though Prasar Bharati was given autonomy under the statute, it hardly used it. From budgetary support for meeting its expenses to going to the Centre for getting approval for every decision including recruitment, power remained centralised in the information and broadcasting ministry.
“Because of their dependence on government funds, it became difficult to distance them from getting influenced by the state,” said an official.
Not only had its revenues, the public broadcaster’s viewership also suffered. According to the I&B ministry’s figures, as against the revenue target of `1,600 crore, it managed to achieve `1,267 crore in 2015-16.
Doordarshan garnered 900 -1000 GVL (gross viewership in lakhs) per week in 2016, far less compared to private TV channels.
But not all agree. “State sponsored corporate entities are mainly like PSUs, which is a subordinate body. For a corporate entity to be successful it has to be free of state power, former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawahar Sircar said.
Several committees, including the 2014 Sam Pitroda panel, recommended structural reforms in PB like generating funds through commercialisation of part of its activities, power to frame rules for employees without seeking government approval, outsourcing content creation to external producers to attract quality. But on the ground not much happened.