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Rumblings At The Helm

The recent probe order by the Competition Commission of India against Prasar Bharati for alleged abuse of dominance with respect to the draft of the FM radio licensing agreement has once again drawn attention to the public broadcaster. It had finally begun to recover from BS Lalli’s tenure as CEO. He had been suspended by President Pratibha Patil in December 2010, over allegations of breaching parliamentary privilege and financial mismanagement in the public broadcasting body, which included the controversial decision to give the contract for broadcast of Commonwealth Games to a UK-based firm, SIS Live.

The constant shuffle at the helm is not helping the cause. Smriti Irani has been appointed as the new Minister for Information & Broadcasting in July 2017. Irani is the fourth I&B minister appointed in the three years of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. Between 2014 and 2016, Prakash Javadekar held the portfolio, followed by finance minister Arun Jaitley. In a cabinet reshuffle in 2016, Venkaiah Naidu had assumed the charge of I&B ministry, and has now moved on after being nominated as the NDA pick for the vice presidential election.

The recent appointment of Shashi Shekhar Vempati, who is looking to turn the public broadcaster around and has plans to put it on a global stage and revive viewership and finances of the network as CEO, Prasar Bharti is promising. Jawhar Sircar, the earlier CEO had submitted his resignation four months ahead of the end of his tenure, which was to draw to a close in February 2017. Rajeev Singh was serving as interim CEO since then.

In the meantime, Prasar Bharati, which came into force in September 1997 as the Broadcasting Corporation of India, is poised to be corporatized. Earlier this year, a panel of secretaries had laid the proposal to turn Prasar Bharati’s two entities, Doordarshan and All India Radio into corporations and then terminate Prasar Bharati’s operation as a state property altogether.

As a parting shot, the I&B ministry is perceived to have not played it right on its recent grant of DAS license to ARASU, a state-government-run cable TV operator in Tamil Nadu, much against TRAI’s recommendations.

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