New Delhi : A long-running turf war between Prasar Bharti and the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) has found its latest flash point over the launch of DD Kisan and appoinment of Veena Jain with dual designation that prompts her to report to the Ministry instead of Prasar Bharati.
Prasar Bharti CEO Jawhar Sircar has written a letter to chairperson A Surya Prakash expressing “anguish” at the MIB’s “cross-instructions to DD Kisan team for the launch ceremony” of a channel supposed to be run by his organisation. In his letter, he has also alleged that despite assurances, ministry’s interference has increased in recent months.
Jawhar Sircar confirmed to that he had written the letter. “It was getting confusing in the last minute as to who was running the show. This two-command line is not good for any organisation. I wanted to be clear on that,” Sircar said.
However, a top I&B ministry official, while confirming the ministry was aware of the letter, said they were forced to step in after the “lack of interest” shown by Prasar Bharti in such a prestigious project.
The official added that they had intervened in the process only to make sure the event where the PM was the chief guest went off smoothly. “The ministry had given Prasar Bharti Rs 100 crore to start work on the channel as soon as the PM announced it almost a year ago but they gave us back Rs 75 crore citing excuses. There was absolutely no work done till December. It was only after a push from the ministry that things started rolling,” said the official who asked not to be named since he is not authorised to talk to media. Sircar was conspicuous by his absence at the dais during the launch function of DD Kisan that took place on May 26 – marking the BJP government’s first anniversary – although the government-appointed chairperson Surya Prakash was present. Sircar wrote the letter the same day after the event. “The real reason behind his outburst is a government plan to audit the salary of the 30,000-plus Prasar Bharti staff and set the place in order,” claimed the I&B ministry official.
“There cannot be autonomy without responsibility. The I&B ministry gets Rs 2,300 crore every year, of which 60% goes to Prasar Bharti. This too has been increased substantially by the new government. Despite that, they have not been able to increase viewership or revenue. To hide their own inefficiency they play the victim and get away,” he said. Last Friday, the government also appointed Veena Jain, DG (News) All India Radio, as the Director General (News) of Doordarshan with additional charge as officer on special duty in the MIB for social media.
The move invited allegations that it was tantamount to the DD News head reporting to I&B Ministry instead of Prasar Bharti CEO. Ministry officials said Jain was being brought in primarily to look at social media initiatives of the government and the position of DG DD News was just to accommodate her in a role that was equivalent of her rank and scale.
Minister of state for Information & Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore rubbished allegations of interference. “If the government wanted to wield more power on the public broadcaster it doesn’t have to use tricks. There is a process in which promotions are given out in the government. When a person becomes a DG, one of the options is for the person to head a media unit. We have an active presence on social media and there are future plans too. So it is only natural to appoint someone to take care of both news and social media so that there is better synchronisation between the units,” he said.
On the other hand Sircar said he had not received any letter about Jain’s appointment and would wait for the board meeting to express his views. “I don’t want to say anything now. I had written to the board and I&B minister Manish Tiwary in 2012 that the government may as well take charge of DD News,” he said.
The I&B official, however, said Prasar Bharti has been politicising issues of appointments instead of focussing on the content of its programmes and reaching out to viewers. “Despite the PM backing the channel, minister interviews and huge funds being poured into it, DD has not been able to increase its viewer ship or revenue. The government is a lot concerned about that,” said a senior official at the ministry.
The Prasar Bharti-I&B Ministry turf battle goes back a long way. In 2013, at an inaugural event of the Sam Pitroda Committee consultation, former I&B minister Manish Tewari had said that if the government was footing the bills of Prasar Bharati, it could not be expected to keep an “arm’s length” from the public broadcaster. His remarks followed stinging criticism by PB Board chairperson Mrinal Pande who had said the board often learned about development in Prasar Bharti “only through the next day’s papers.”