Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Bonded broadcasters

Whichever party grabs power in New Delhi, it remains the same for state broadcasters All India Radio and Doordarshan. They become mouthpieces of the government --- in reality of the ruling political party. That makes it difficult for the people to trust the broadcasters as credible source of news and quality entertainment. It's a shame; the broadcasters had all the potential to be the best in the business with the governmental support and the massive reach they have across the diverse nation. Instead, they have become a hub of worst programming and biased news. 

The problem is that these broadcasters are tied to the government for money. Moreover, everything they do requires approval of the ministry of information and broadcasting. The so-called autonomy of the Prasar Bharati Corporation, under which All India Radio and Doordarshan operate, is nothing but a farce. They just cannot do anything that doesn't have the ministry's approval; in other words they cannot broadcast anything --- no matter how credible that may be --- if that goes against the ruling party. Add to that the constant need to broadcast propaganda to show the government in a good light. Simply put, you cannot call a spade a spade.

For decades the ruling party used the state broadcasters; now it is the Bharatiya Janata Party which is doing the same. So, it was not a shocker to see that Doordarshan was telecasting speech of Hindu right-wing group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's chief Mohan Bhagwat. Congress party, which is crying foul over it, should not forget they were equally shameless when in power. They exploited the broadcasters as if they were bonded labourers. BJP is just following that tradition. 

It's not that no one opposes this lack of autonomy. In recent times Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar had made certain noises about the need to free the organisation from ministerial stranglehold. Not surprisingly all of it fell on the deaf ears. The government of the day ensures that Prasar Bharati doesn't get the real autonomy. Freedom for broadcasters is an anathema to the government, the ministers and the ruling party. Therefore, it is unlikely that in near future Prasar Bharati will be freed from the stifling government control. 

There is one more point I would like to make here. The permanent staffers of All India Radio and Doordarshan are happily ensconced in their cushy jobs, hoping to retire with enough money in hand to sustain themselves. All they care about is whether they are getting the salary, whether there are pay hikes, whether a bonus is around, and the like. They don't apply their mind much to the programming. They don't feel the need; the environment is not conducive for that. Quality is not the cornerstone in Prasar Bharati. In other words, permanent staffers are mostly lax in their editorial content approach. They know their accountability begins and ends with toeing the government line. They all know Prasar Bharati is just another government department of sorts where work is not worship. It's the same for the engineers who are least bothered about the quality of the broadcast, the machines in the studios and other gadgets. They are not worried that private channels are better in terms of technology. It's none of their business. 

For decades there has been no recruitment despite thousands of vacancies. The system of running the radio and television channels with 'casual' presenters and news readers is also flawed. Casual presenters have responsibility but in the Prasar Bharati ecosystem they are not respected. They are treated as third-class citizens and in the end they are not sufficiently encouraged to perform or enhance their skill. The money they get is paltry; there is no security of job; they all have to suffer the uncouth whims of their superiors --- permanent announcers, absurdly rude engineers, unworthy programme executives, boastful assistant station directors and mindless station directors --- who in turn are the victims of caprices of higher-ups in the echelons. The end product of all this nonsense that goes on at All India Radio and Doordarshan is pathetic content which belies the fact that once both the broadcasters were known for quality programmes.

The future, therefore, is quite bleak for all those within the system who want to do something different and offer good programming. Prasar Bharati is indeed the graveyard of quality professionals. And that will be the case as long as there is no freedom.