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HomeArticlesPrasar Bharati Vs MIB Defending autonomy comes with many pitfalls
Wednesday, 11 April 2018 05:56

Prasar Bharati Vs MIB Defending autonomy comes with many pitfalls

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Freedom of working and rights of doing things in our own way is something which is precious. In government departments, staff often feels subservient to the ministries, and have to virtually follow their orders. Meandering in any way would cost them dearly like what we saw recently during the ongoing tussle between the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting(MIB) and the public broadcaster Prasar Bharati which works under the Ministry. 

Prasar Bharati runs Doordarshan and All India Radio and has 5,000 staff strength. For the year 2017-18, the MIB had allocated a total of `2,996 crore to Prasar Bharati, up from previous year’s `2,766 crore.

In February 2018, Prasar Bharati showed a raw sense of daring when it dropped two proposals of the Ministry regarding the appointments on two key posts. The Board argued that accepting them would “amount to infringing its autonomy”.

Now let’s have a look at the two recommendations by the Ministry which created the deep rift between the son (Prasar Bharati) and the father (MIB). One of the two proposals was about appointing a serving IAS officer to the vacant position of a full-time member on the board through the Union Cabinet’s Appointments Committee. Prasar Bharati board thought that by doing so would give the ministry way to interfere in internal matters in future.

The Board said, “This would amount to erosion of the Prasar Bharati Act and would denigrate the office of the vice president.” Hence, Prasar Bharati also declined the resolution to appoint journalists Siddharth Zarabi (as head of TV news at DD News) and Abhijit Majumder (as chief editor of Prasar Bharati News Service). The Board said that the proposed salaries for them were “too exorbitant”.

In third such daring move, the Prasar Bharati board rejected the Ministry’s demand that Doordarshan pay a private firm ` 2.9 crore for an assignment the broadcaster says was unnecessarily outsourced. The National Film Development Corporation had outsourced live coverage of the opening and closing ceremonies of the International Film Festival of India, which falls under the ministry. Prasar Bharati feels that the Doordarshan had the equipment and expertise to cover much bigger events like the Republic Day Parade, and there was no plausible reason to seek external aid and expect Prasar Bharati to pay for it.

 

Retaliation by MIB:

 Irked by the belligerence of the Board, The I&B Minister Smriti Irani took some hard steps. A. Surya Prakash, chairperson of Prasar Bharati, accused Irani of holding back salary funds (totalling about `400 crore) in retaliation, forcing the broadcaster to pay its staff salaries for January and February from a contingency fund, though the Minister clarified the funds had been withheld because the broadcaster had not signed a memorandum of understanding with it as required by autonomous bodies receiving grants-in-aid from the government. 

Prasar Bharati’schief executive officer SS Vempati tried to set things right by saying the ministry had released ` 208 crore towards salaries on February 28, adding that the Prasar Bharati board’s resolutions cautioned against speaking to the press on “internal issues”.

Surya Prakash lamented the fact that the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act came into force in 1997 but its implementation remains incomplete. He said that no Act of Parliament has ever been so weak in implementation. For example, there was not a single demand to constitute a 22-member parliamentary committee to supervise Prasar Bharati, as mandated by Section 13 of the Act. 

Also, another tussle appeared when Prasar Bharati had refused to terminate contractual employees of the broadcaster on I&B ministry’s demand, calling it a “direct attack on the autonomy of the organisation”. The board felt that keeping contractual employees is the prerogative of the Prasar Bharti and not the ministry.

 

What the Act say?

The Prasar Bharati Bill was passed in 1990. The Prasar Bharati Act was eventually implemented in 1997.  Section 12 (3) (a) mandates that Prasar Bharati ensure that “Broadcasting is conducted as a public service.” Again, Section 12 (3) (b) reinforces that the purpose of establishing the corporation is to gather news, not propaganda. 

The Prasar Bharati Corporation’s main objective is to provide autonomy to Doordarshan and Akashvani in order to “educate and entertain the public.”

Prasar Bharati Chairman A. Surya Prakash defends its autonomy, “The 1990 Act was being treated with utter contempt, while Prasar Bharati is an autonomous corporation as evident in Section 4. The Chairman and the other Members, except the ex-officio members, the nominated member and the elected members, shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee. The government has no part in the appointment. The Act points out that the CEO would be under the “control and supervision” of the Board and not the Central government.”

But Prakash feels that the government still holds the reins of Prasar Bharati as it has the power to make rules for the corporation, issue grants or allowances and control the salaries of employees.

Prasar Bharati Chairman added that the Section 22 gives the Centre powers to issue directions which it “may think necessary in the interests of the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India or the security of the State or preservation of public order” to not broadcast “any matter of public importance”.

 

Recent developments: 

In the latest development on salary issue of Prasar Bharati, the Unions of various departments of All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan (DD) have written to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) not to route their salaries via Prasar Bharati. They requested MIB to work out a mechanism for paying salaries directly.

Prasar Bharati is an autonomous body under MIB and oversees AIR and DD, whose employees’ salaries are paid by the Ministry, but routed through the Prasar  Bharati.

Also, the staff demanded that security from vital installation of both AIR and DD that has been withdrawn or reduced by PB citing “financial crunch” should be reversed to protect these installation that come under the Official Secrets Act 1923.

The Association of Akashvani and DD engineering employees, audience research employees association, Akashvani announcers association are the organizations which wrote the letter.

The unions in the letter have pointed out that there has been “regular non disbursement of salaries to the employees on time since July 2017 till date, despite regular intervention from MIB.”

 

The way forward: 

Experts feel that setting up a parliamentary committee and a Broadcasting Council and making the Prasar Bharati board directly accountable to Parliament can be a good step towards real autonomy. The Parliament just needs to force Act’s implementation.

As per Sam Pitroda’s recommendations, an autonomous Prasar Bharati should be empowered to frame rules and regulations for its employees, without having to seek prior government approval. But it is highly unlikely that the government would even implement the recommendations.

As the general elections are approaching, the environment seems to witness a deep fight of two different schools of thoughts. The government seems to tighten the noose of the Board and trying to kill the little autonomy that is left with the Prasar Bharati.

But what we must appreciate is the raw daring of the Board under Chairman Prakash in an age when the government wants to bleed, exploit and terrorize Prasar Bharati into submission. 

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