Though the constitution of India only refers to three branches of democracy– judiciary, legislator and executive– there is another ‘invisible’ branch that ensures checks and balances over all three: the media. It is the media, especially the news platforms, that help in the formation of public opinion, which in turn has a substantial impact over the legislator and executive, and minor influence over the judiciary.
Over the course of time, the Indian media has evolved from a mere collection of government-run channels and radio stations to a multi-billion business. This transition also means a proportional decline in the popularity of the public broadcaster Prasar Bharati and its flagship channel, Doordarshan. The public broadcaster has failed to bring in new technologies and attractive programmes that are necessary for it to compete with its private rivals. This inability is largely owing to the lack of the autonomy that the Prasar Bharti Corporation yielded. Though the broadcaster is entitled to autonomy by the Prasar Bharati Act of 1990, nowhere in the past has it made use of its supposed autonomy. Recently, it seems like the public broadcaster has finally become aware of its strength and capabilities. In a recent board meeting, Prasar Bharati rejected the proposals made by the government regarding the appointments to two key positions in the organization, owing to the ‘exorbitant packages’ announced for the appointments. This elicits hope with regards to the state of media autonomy in the country.
Prasar Bharti’s resistance arose when the Ministry proposed to shrink the size of Prasar Bharti by terminating agreements with all contractual employees and adding prominent journalists to the agency. The Ministry’s proposal recommended two senior journalists, Siddharth Zarabi and Abhijit Majumdar, for whom the Ministry had fixed an annual compensation of Rs 1 crore and Rs 75 lakh respectively. The Prasar Bharati board argued that the highest compensation paid to contractual employees in Prasar Bharati was about ₹1.6 lakh a month and a jump to ₹1 crore a year would be akin to doing injustice to the existing ones. Additionally, the government also wanted to have a civil servant on the Prasar Bharati Board as a full-time member, which is explicitly against the provisions made under the Prasar Bharati Act.
Prasar Bharati often had been the target of the critics for its incapacity to carry out daily operations, without any government interference. Many times, it was used as a propaganda machine to promote and glorify the ruling regime. Rather than running programmes that could have garnered higher viewership, the public broadcaster had to often telecast the government advertisements and feature programmes. Even today after repeated calls for modernization, the Prasar Bharati Network and its affiliated channels gain a sizeable amount of viewership only during the times when Indian cricket team is playing an international ODI or a tournament like World cup. One reason why the public broadcaster was granted with autonomy through the parliamentary act was to ensure that it will act as an independent entity which may bring in a balance in the way the democratic institutions in the country operates. It would have also ensured a steady flow of income and thus, an inbuilt revenue generation mechanism, which would end up with complete freedom for the agency. However, none of these aims were achieved and time proved how the public broadcaster became another puppet in the hands of various ruling regimes.
In several countries across the world, the public broadcaster enjoys substantial amount of freedom and liberty– the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the public broadcaster of United Kingdom, being a textbook example, is known for its vocal criticisms of the ruling as well as the opposition parties of UK. On several instances in the past, BBC has raised a critical voice against political establishments. Its critical voice became so strong that at one point of time, under the Thatcher government, a ruling MP termed BBC as “Stateless Person’s Broadcasting Corporation” because of what he regarded as its ‘unpatriotic’ (read: neutral) coverage of the Falklands War.
It is high time that India works on a media outlet that assumes a neutral stance on political opinion formation– Indeed, the present act of resent by Prasar Bharati against the government’s impositions is a welcome step towards the achievement of this goal. As Walter Cronkite once aptly said: “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is the democracy.”
– Contributed by Jiss
Image Source: punjabkesari.com