The present process for change was initiated in 2018, when Prasar Bharati began a manpower audit.(Twitter)
The present process for change was initiated in 2018, when Prasar Bharati began a manpower audit.(Twitter)

Prasar Bharati looks at BBC model for makeover

  • The plan, which has been in the works for three years, is presently under consideration.
By Deeksha Bhardwaj
UPDATED ON APR 02, 2021 01:51 PM IST

Based on a benchmarking exercise that compared it with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Prasar Bharati has concluded that it needs to sharply reorient itself, reducing technical staff, and adding content muscle, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity, talking about the restructuring plan of the public broadcaster that runs both Doordarshan and All India Radio.

The plan, which has been in the works for three years, is presently under consideration.

The present process for change was initiated in 2018, when Prasar Bharati began a manpower audit. The audit was outsourced to Ernst and Young, which suggested alterations. The findings were completed in February. They show that nearly half the organisation’s 25,000 employees are employed in the engineering division, whereas the corresponding strength for BBC is at a little over 10%. The content team at Prasar Bharti comprises less than 20% of the workforce, while BBC’s content team accounts for 70%. Manpower costs account for over 60% of Prasar Bharati’s expenses, and just around 30% of BBC’s. To be sure, BBC earns significant revenue each year from licensing -- all TV owners pay a license fee every year that funds the organisation.

Prasar Bharati also plans to organically downsize, with nearly half of its employees retiring in the next five years. Less than 10% of the service’s employees are between the age of 31-40, less than 5% between 20-30, while over 60% are over 50.

The service may also introduce a voluntary retirement scheme, on the same model as the one currently working in Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), HT learns. The VRS scheme will provide appropriate compensation to employees over the age of 50 that choose to retire. It is also considering a category of contractual employees. The VRS could reduce the organisation’s annual cash outflow by over 2,000 crore, according to the plan.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting declined to comment on the matter.

“The manpower audit is a long pending exercise... It is to look at how we can transform public broadcasting on various fronts. We are consulting several stakeholders,” said Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati.

Prasar Bharati has already introduced changes to increase efficiency in broadcasting, such as cloud-based broadcasts and remote monitoring. In terms of operations, it has also shifted to digital platforms.

Changes to the Parliamentary Act, under which the body has been created, are also being considered, the people said. “There are organisational issues,” one of the people cited above said. “There, of course, is a public mandate. But at the same time, there have to be commercial expectations as well. There is a low viewership and that can only change if the content side is revamped.”

This person added that better asset utilisation remains a priority. “Earlier, Prasar Bharati needed a stronger engineering department. But now it has to focus more on content.”

Former I&B minister Manish Tewari said that the fundamental thing that needs to be determined is whether India requires a public broadcaster. “The Prasar Bharati Act was brought into existence in 1990, but was implemented, that too partially, only in 1997. The Act came into existence in the backdrop of the government having monopoly over Doordarshan and AIR.

Prasar Bharati does not enjoy the same kind of autonomy that BBC does. So long as its funds are released by the I&B ministry, it can’t. What the government needs to do is set up a committee of experts familiar with the functioning of Prasar Bharati instead of looking at piecemeal solutions,” he said.

Former Editor of the media site The Hoot, Sevanti Ninan said Prasar Bharati has traditionally been a terrestrial broadcaster, which is why engineers were needed to maintain a countrywide network of terrestrial towers. “The whole engineering network has now become largely redundant,” she said. She added that the public broadcaster is not known for the quality of its content. “It’s never gone past being a government broadcaster,” Ninan said. Prasar Bharati CEO Vempati said, “What we are aspiring to create is public broadcaster of the future... we want to transform the broadcaster on both, the content and technological front.”

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