Viewers are running to DD from noise on private news channels: A. Surya Prakash

Prakash says out of a budget of approximately Rs.4,000 crore for Prasar Bharati, 50% comes from the government.
New Delhi: A. Surya Prakash, consulting editor at the English daily Pioneer and a fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, was appointed the chairman of Prasar Bharati earlier this week. In an interview at the Prasar Bharati office in New Delhi, he spoke of autonomy for Doordarshan and turning DD News into a top-class news channel.

Edited excerpts: What is your agenda as chairman of Prasar Bharati, considering Doordarshan seems to be under government control?
Since the idea is to have an autonomous corporation, I think everyone should strive towards that whether one is in the government or in Prasar Bharati. As far as my agenda is concerned, whether it’s digitization or other new technologies that we need to adopt, we have to get the volumes and look at their commercial viability. These are ideas that we need to pursue.

Would you push for autonomy of Prasar Bharati during your term?
I was looking at the budget of Prasar Bharati. The budgetary support was Rs.1,400 crore about four-five years ago. In the current financial year, it is Rs.1,950 crore. Out of a budget of approximately Rs.4,000 crore, 50% is coming from the Union of India. I don’t think this is a good idea. We need to look at that. These are my preliminary views on the matter. I need to sit with colleagues and ideate on some of these things. I’m very troubled that public money of Rs.2,000 crore is going to Prasar Bharati on an annual basis.

Do we really need that kind of budgetary support from the government? The corporation must, therefore, look at its assets. We must objectively bring about an improvement in the commercial viability of the organization. There needs to be a 10-year plan where Prasar Bharati can stand on its own feet. We need to look at some recommendations made by the Sam Pitroda committee or anything that is good and will take us towards strengthening Prasar Bharati as an autonomous institution.

So far, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used both Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) to communicate with the people. What will be the role of the state broadcaster in the new political philosophy of this government?
Today we have a Prime Minister who is so strong on social media and it’s a very big advantage compared with the past where the priorities of the Prime Minister were something else. His (Modi’s) whole idea of communicating and reaching out is pretty good.

My media instinct tells me that his show, Man Ki Baat (on AIR), will be very popular. Don’t look at it purely in political terms. Look at it as a national leader who wants to communicate with citizens on a weekly or fortnightly basis. He is speaking on radio and 100 television channels are taking the feed and broadcasting it. This is also totally unprecedented. I think every Man ki Baat episode will have lots of news value. I also think people will go back to radio sets to listen in rather than watch it on a news channel.

How do you plan to differentiate your brands from private news channels?
When all the private players came in, I thought these guys (DD) are going to have a tough time. How will DD survive? But look at DD over the last four-five years, it’s no longer a “sarkari” channel like it used to be in old times. If you look at its news coverage and programmes, the environment has enabled it to have a decent run order of stories which can match up to all the other channels.

I thought private competition from all sides would finish the viewership of Doordarshan. But that hasn’t happened, because, luckily for the public service broadcaster, there is a lot more noise during prime time on the private news channel. There are lots of citizens who are troubled by it and who are running away from the private channels for this reason. And they are going to Doordarshan. I’ve heard this from friends for some months now. So let them (private channels) fight it out. We need to be a top-class news channel. I think we can get there and we must get there.

Even for AIR, nobody can say it’s a “sarkari” channel. In democratic terms, we have come some distance in this country. The democratic environment is such that people in power are far more tolerant today of the other point of view than they were 40-50 years ago. You can see that in the way people conduct themselves. So the environment itself is conducive to a more independent news environment.


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