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Panel under Sam Pitroda suggests how Prasar Bharati can become an independent public service broadcaster

NEW DELHI: For becoming an independent public service broadcaster, a government-appointed committee has recommended private investment and “effective” administrative and financial powers to Prasar Bharati.

Headed by technocrat Sam Pitroda, the committee suggested restructuring of Prasar Bharati and complete transfer of ownership and management of the assets to it.

India’s public broadcasting organisation, the Prasar Bharati, needs to move towards editorial autonomy. Keeping this in mind, the Sam Pitroda expert committee report stated that Prasar Bharati’s vision must be to become a “genuine public broadcaster” as against a “government broadcaster”.

The funding model, according to the panel, should include private investment, government funding and internal resource mobilisation.

Making a case for providing autonomy, the committee report on Prasar Bharati, which was submitted to the Information and Broadcasting minister today, suggested that the Prasar Bharati Act 1990 should be amended “so as to impart genuine and effective autonomy to the organisation.”

The panel recommended forming a Parliamentary Committee, as originally envisaged in the Prasar Bharati Act 1990, to ensure that Prasar Bharati discharges its duties in accordance with the provisions of the Act and government duties.

Information and Broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said his ministry would “seriously, studiously and diligently” examine the recommendations.

The committee also stated that the pubcaster should monetise all available assets (archival and other) as soon as possible to enhance funding.

To bring about radical changes in the predicament of the pubcaster, the report came out with 26 recommendations across governance and organisation, funding, human resources, content, technology, archiving, social media, and global outreach.

The committee suggested scaling up allocation of funds for content generation to 50 per cent of the total expenditure within a period of 5–7 years. It called for a review of all existing channels and content of Doordarshan and All India Radio. Based on their relevance, output and viability, sub-optimal utilisation of resources should be phased out.

On the technology front, the report suggested expanding the satellite and digital cable TV operations to meet the obligation of public service broadcasting. It added that the present AM radio system should be digitised after due evaluation subject to cost and availability of DRM receivers. However, on investment in digitising terrestrial operations, it recommended selectiveness based on commercial viability. “Any further expansion of and investment in digital terrestrial telecast should be suitably evaluated after field reviews and assessment of developments in the telecom sector,” the report said.

Regarding social media, it asked the ministry to define and execute a social media strategy of Prasar Bharati. It also recommended setting up of Prasar Bharati Connect (PBC) as the third arm of the public service broadcaster, independent of Doordarshan and All India Radio.

It  emphasised creating a world-class broadcasting service benchmarked with the best in the world using next-generation opportunities, technologies, business models and strategies. The platform should be designed for new media first and then extended to conventional TV, said the report.

While Prasar Bharati was set up in 1997 “to function as a genuinely autonomous body, innovative, dynamic and flexible with a high degree of credibility”, the Pitroda committee noted that the provisions of the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990 gave immense powers and authority to the government to intervene in the internal functioning of the organisation. “Thereby, Prasar Bharati continues to be, in many ways, a subordinate office of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,” it observed.

The report further noted that financial, functional and operational autonomy is at the core of making Prasar Bharati an independent public service broadcaster, which is perceived neither as the mouthpiece of the government nor as being dependent on market forces. “While emphasising the independence that is so critical for the public service broadcaster, it is equally important to stress that accountability should balance this independence,” it read.

The desired structure, the committee said, should ensure an objective and fair view of India and its people in all its activities.

“By balancing autonomy with accountability, the new Prasar Bharati can be a significant exemplar and a model for public service broadcasting that can help power inclusive growth and development for modern India. Additionally, the restructuring of Prasar Bharati in terms of organisation, the quality of human resources, and most importantly, through excellent execution based on a cohesive and clearly thought out strategy will help it compete effectively with the growing presence and influence of privately owned media in India,” the report said.

At present, Prasar Bharati oversees Doordarshan, broadcasting 21 television channels and AIR with a network of 376 broadcasting stations. The workforce at Prasar Bharati has expanded over the years to meet its increasing programming, transmission and logistical support needs. It currently has 31,621 full-time employees and 7,269 casual employees, the report said.

The government, on 28 January 2013, had set up the expert committee to review the functioning of Prasar Bharati and to recommend steps to transform it into a world-class public broadcasting service.

The committee undertook extensive consultations and co-opted a wide range of domain experts by constituting 11 groups to focus on a variety of issues related to the public broadcaster.

“Today, we have a unique window of opportunity to transform our broadcasting service [both AIR and DD] into a cutting-edge platform capable of delivering its commitment to public service in the best possible manner, while keeping pace with the competitive needs of the 21st century. However, as our report suggests, this transformation will require a bold, clear vision, a focus on generational change, and new models and approaches in every aspect of the public service broadcaster’s activities,” the committee report said.

The committee also recommended giving power to Prasar Bharati to frame rules and regulations to recruit people without government approval.