AUTONOMY FOR TV. AND RADIO ITS FEASIBILITY For a long time the Indian opposition parties have been loudly demanding an Autonomous...


For a long time the Indian opposition parties have been loudly demanding an Autonomous Broadcasting Corporation and charging the Government with the misuse of these powerful media of mass communication. It was forgotten that the ruling party has to convey its achievements, plans, and objectives, to the masses and also undo the campaign of misinformation and distortion that is unleashed by position from time to time.

The various parties that constituted the National Front government made the autonomy of T.V. and Radio an important item in their election menifestoes for the election to the IX Lok Sabha held in November-December  1989. The ruling Congress government was criticized for misusing these powerful media and it was said, that if elected to power, thay will soon end this misuse and establish an autonomous corporation to put an end to such misuse.

So soon after coming of the V.P. Singh Government into power, The Prasar Bharti Bill was drafted and tabled in the Lok Sabha in December.1989, so that it may be taken up for discussion and approval in the monsoon session. Let us first examine its provisions in detail and then see if they really make T.V. and Radio autonomous.

It is proposed through the Bill to set up a single autonomous corporation (to be known as the Prasar Bharti Broadcasting Corporation of India) with two distinct wings- television and radio-to ensure its working in fair, objective creative manner. According to the Bill, the corporation will have a 10 member Board of Governors with four full time members and also, an 11 member broadcasting council. The council will monitor the working of the corporation and hear complaints.

Under the bill, the Government will have the right to make rules for the corporation and remove or suspend the Governors after reference to the Supreme Court. The annual accounts of the corporation will be certified by the Controller and Auditor General and presented to the Central Government for laying them before the Parliament. It was presumed that the proposed corporation would function as a genuinely autonomous body, innovative, dynamic and flexible, with a high degree of credibility. However, one difficulty was conveniently forgotten or ignored. It was forgotten that T.V. and the Radio have a combined income of nearly 200 crores while the expenditure on the proposed corporation would run to over Rs. 280 crores. As the subsidy 'or financial aid would be supplied by the Govt., its hold over the media would continue. It will not be autonomous in the real sense.

The proposed structure of the corporation takes into account the need for ensuring that radio and television, which belong to two distinct ways of communication, are enabled to evolve and grow in their own way while ensuring co-operation of overall approach which alone can ensure that the requirements of the people regarding entertainment, information and education are met, that the programmes are useful for all.

The Board of Governors will consist of a Chairman, an executive Governor, two Governors in-charge of finance and personnel, and six part-time governors. The Board will also have a representative of the Information and Broadcasting ministry. One of the important provisions has already been modified the Chairman of the corporation will only be a part-time officer so that there may be no conflict between the Chairman and the other Governors.

The Chairman and other Governors will be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committe comprising of the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, the Chairman of the Press Council, and a nominee of the President of India, The Chairman and the Governors shall be persons of eminence from public life. The Governors will be people with considerable experience in various fields assigned to them. This provision has come in for a good deal of criticism as an insult to the personnel working on the staff of the media. It has been said that it is a slur on their experience and efficiency, and protests have been made against it.

The Executive Governor will be the Chief Executive of the corporation. The Broadcasting Council will receive and consider complaints, and advise the corporation in the discharge of its functions, It will also receive complaints from any person claiming to have been treated unjustly or unfairly including unwarranted invasion of privacy, misinterpretation, distortion, lack of objective. The Elected Government may issue to the corporation directions it considers necessary in the interest of the security of the state or preservation of public order.

The staff of the AlR and the T.V. is unhappy about the Bill. Too much of bureaucratic control over the media is feared. A number of provisions of the Bill go against the very concept of autonomy. No doubt P. Upendra, the former Union Information and Broadcasting Minister, did go to the UK. and the U.S.A. to study there the functioning of their Broadcasting corporations. But then the question has been repeatedly asked if the Government did not have full knowledge of the working of these bodies, and if not, why did it make its election promises regarding this issue, without making a full depth study of the whole problem. The Minister might have returned from his foreign tours wiser and with more knowledge but will the newly gained wisdom and knowledge help him much when he is back in his chair in Shastri Bhavan to deal with the autonomy question again?

However, one fears that it is not lack of knowledge on the part of the Government that deters it from going ahead with its plan of giving autonomy to Doordarshan and All India Radio. The real problem is that no Government wants to relinquish control over such powerful media. If the Congress blatantly misused the electronic media, the National Front Government also wanted to retain its control over them. This explains why the Prasar Bharati Bill has turned out to be a joke.

The proposed amendments to the bill go against the very concept of autonomy which the National F u and other Opposition parties had promised during the general elections. In the bill, a board of governors, consisting of persons of eminence, integrity and independence is envisaged to ensure the autonomy of the electronic media but there is also a proposal to add a sub-clause which will empower Government to suspend or dissolve the board in the interest of "national security". Another proposal is to entrust the Government with powers to suspend the entire Act in emergency-like situations. Evidently, the N.F. Government developed cold feet on the autonomy question with the result that it wanted to settle for a diluted autonomy for the electronic media. After an initial hands off phase, the National Front Government could not resist the temptation of making use of radio and T.V. for propaganda.

The problem is a complicated one and no simplistic solution is possible. The more one thinks over the matter the more is one convinced that it is all a political affair, and not a desire for real autonomy. We may add that the Chandar Shekhar Government which succeeded the V.P. Singh Government has not been able upto date to give thought to this problem. It has been pre-occupied with other more pressing problems.



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