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Govt trims funds allocated for publicity on Prasar Bharati

MUMBAI: The government has begun to cut or withdraw some funds that were allocated for publicity on Prasar Bharati.

A report in the Indian Express mentions that the Health Ministry has withdrawn Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) that it had earmarked for campaigns on Prasar Bharati. The Agriculture Ministry has informed the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) that it is more than halving its spend on Prasar Bharati, from Rs 145 crore (Rs 1.45 billion) to Rs 70 crore (Rs 700 million).

Some like the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation in the Ministry of Agriculture have also raised questions about the relevance of programmes like ‘Krishi Darshan’ on Doordarshan and asked that they be made more meaningful, sources in MIB told IE.

These revelations are part of a detailed analysis of Prasar Bharati’s performance carried out by MIB recently.

I&B Minister Arun Jaitley and his deputy Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore have already gone through the analysis and given their comments, states the report, further adding that the Ministry is now in the process of submitting the analysis to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“This [the slashing of budgets] signals the loss of trust, confidence and credibility in entrusting funds to Prasar Bharati, considering the declining level of viewership of such programmes,” says the report analysing the performance of the public broadcaster.

Rathore said, “The data about Doordarshan’s viewership is mainly about urban areas and does not include a large number of rural areas where Doordarshan has high viewership. But even then, Prasar Bharati, undoubtedly, must conduct a self-analysis and it must come up with various models to increase its viewability as well as revenue generation.”

He further accepted that “content generation” continued to be a “weakness”, and said the government had “asked Prasar Bharati to do an analysis on their own to come up with ways to eliminate weaknesses”.

As one of the measures to improve content generation, Prasar Bharati is now considering outsourcing slots to professional content creators who will provide content for Doordarshan to air with a built-in revenue sharing mechanism, the Minister said.

The report further mentions that according to Rathore, Prasar Bharati’s “expenditures were high” given its public service role and manpower. But, he stated, “man-management issues are there”, and “we have to look for efficiency that comes within the system and within its mandate”.

In response to a questionnaire seeking comments on the performance, its CEO Jawhar Sircar said, “Prasar Bharati is not a PSU or a company that has to keep balance sheets on profits and losses and gaps. It is a statutory autonomous body that has a definite mandate to cover specific (terribly non-profitable) areas that no private broadcaster does”.

Sircar said the budget cut by the Health Ministry “is for several reasons that DD would be able to detail during working hours, but one version is that it was egged on by a Vibhishana to spite this organisation. Can’t say for sure.”

He further added that the Agriculture Ministry has some issues and “our chairman had fruitful discussions with the Minister: so why pick on such homely issues in public unless the ‘unnamed officials’ want to discredit their own organisation.”

As per the Ministry’s assessment given by the IE, Prasar Bharati’s viewership and revenue data are in inverse proportion to the expenditure incurred by it.

“From Rs 1,608 crore (Rs 16.08 billion) in 2012-13, Prasar Bharati’s expenditure rose to Rs 1,850 crore (Rs 18.5 billion) in 2014-15, an increase of nearly 15 per cent. But their revenues in the corresponding period declined from Rs 1,137 crore (Rs 11.37 billion) to Rs 993 crore (Rs 9.93 billion), a drop of nearly 13 per cent,” a source told the daily.

The Ministry has further underlined that the revenues of Doordarshan Kendras constitute a minuscule percentage of their expenditure, and that the situation has been worsening rapidly. “There is a yawning gap between expenditure and revenue to the extent of Rs 857 crore (Rs 8.57 billion) in 2014-15 against a gap of Rs 470 crore (Rs 4.7 billion) in 2012-13,” it has said.