Monday, April 19, 2010

Discuss the origin and growth of Prasar Baharti Corporation Act (PBC) of 1990.

PBC Act 1990 – a regulation aimed to give autonomy to the Public Broadcasting System, was introduced in December 1989, passed in September 1990, and notified in 1997. The Corporation would inherit the capital assets of Doordarshan and AIR and would be managed by a 15-member Prasar Bharati Board, including the Directors-General of the two organisations and two representatives from amongst the employees. The Chair and other members of the Board would be appointed on the recommendations of the selection committee headed by the Vice President. Its aim was autonomy with accountability. It is a statutory body (by govt. act) unlike the Election Commission which is a Constitutional Body (mentioned in the Constitution).

The need for an autonomous public broadcast system was first felt in 1977 soon after the emergency when the Indira Gandhi government widely misused the public broadcaster. B.G. Varghese Committee formed after the Emergency recommended the establishment of an autonomous PBS in India.

The Lok Sabha admitted the Prasar Bharati Bill in May 1979, but following the return of the Congress to power, it was put into cold storage. The victory of the National Front government in 1989 saw the revival of the Prasar Bharati Bill in a somewhat modified form; the Bill was passed by Parliament and received presidential assent on September 12, 1990.
The Act was finally notified in 1997. It provided for the formation of an autonomous Broadcasting Corporation that would manage Doordarshan and AIR, discharging all powers previously held by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Apart from safeguarding the citizen’s right to be informed freely, truthfully, and objectively, on all matters of public interest, the PBC would have a special commitment as a PSB. This would include paying special attention to fields that commercial broadcasters may ignore (e.g. education, agriculture, rural development, women’s empowerment, traditional arts, health and family welfare, etc). The PBC would also have to meet the needs of regional audiences, minorities and the STs & SCs of India’s. The primary duties of the PBC were two:

1. To organize and conduct Public Broadcasting Services;
2. To inform, educate & entertain the public and ensure a balanced development of broadcasting on Radio & TV.

The Prasar Bharati Act gives a kind of activist agenda to Prasar Bharati mandating it among other things, promotion of social justice, combat of evils of untouchability, work for safeguarding the rights of the working classes, and stimulate national awareness on the status and problems of women.

The creation of a 22-member Parliamentary committee was to oversee the performance of the PBC in accordance with the rules and regulations and in letter and spirit of the Act. It envisages Parliamentary accountability without Government intervention.

Prasar Bharti (Broadcasting Cooperation of India) Act provides for grant of autonomy to electronic media, namely, AIR and Doordarshan, which was under the Government control before enactment of this law. The main aim of the act is that Media should be under the control of the public as distinct from Government. It should be operated by a public statutory corporation or corporations, whose constitution and composition must be such as to ensure their impartiality in political, economic and social matters and on all other public issues.
The Broadcasting Corporation was supposed to be independent after all these provisions but Section 23 of the Act gave the Central Government the power to issue to the Corporation directions to broadcast or not to make a broadcast, if it deemed it necessary in the interests of the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India, or the security of the State, or the preservation of public order.
Another provision that curtailed the autonomy of the Corporation was Section 13, which provided for the constitution of a 22-member Parliamentary Committee to oversee the working of the Corporation. The government used both these provisions rather too generously. The Parliamentary Committee acted more as a control and so did the bureaucrat in the 15 member Prasar Bharati Board.
Even this symbolic autonomy didn’t come so easily. The National Front government (with VP Singh as Prime Minister) fell before the Act could be notified. It was again not notified by the Narasimha Rao Govt. which came to power in 1991. But this time the reason given was that the arrival of private satellite broadcasting had rendered State broadcasting redundant. The future of DD, it was suggested, lay in privatization, not autonomy.

However the legislation got a fresh lease of life when the Supreme Court, on 9 February
1995, in the Cricket Association of Bengal case, directed the Government to set up an independent broadcasting authority that would give access to all interests and groups. Even then it took the then Information and Broadcasting Minister Jaipal Reddy of the United Front Government two years to announce that the Act would be notified.

The United Front government again introduced changes in two main categories. It scrapped Section 13 of the 1990 Act that had provided for a Parliamentary Committee to oversee the working of the Board. Other amendments removed the Government’s power to stipulate advertisement airtime and provided for the transfer of the assets of Doordarshan and Akashvani to the Corporation for a perpetual lease of a token Re 1 a year.
The second sets of amendments were broadly meant to seek to reconcile the Prasar Bharati Act with planned legislation on private broadcasters. It replaced the Broadcasting Council provided for in the Prasar Bharati Act with the Broadcasting Authority of India, that would govern private broadcasters when the then pending Broadcasting Bill 1997 was enacted. The United Front government also appointed SS Gill as the Chief Executive of the Corporation, amending the statutory qualifications for the designated head of Prasar Bharati.
But then the premature general elections in 1998 saw the formation of a new BJP-led government. The BJP had opposed Gill’s appointment as violative of the stipulated age limit. When Gill refused to resign, the BJP government allowed the presidential ordinance amending the Prasar Bharati Act to lapse, and then removed him from office saying he did not satisfy the qualifications required under the Act. The government also removed other members of the Prasar Bharati from their posts. These actions were challenged in the Delhi High Court, which declined to interfere on the ground that it was a policy matter.
In recent years after the UPA came to power the Central Government introduced the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Amendment Bill, 2008 in Parliament, amending the Prasar Bharati Act to reduce the tenure of the Corporation’s Chairman from six to three years. The move was seen to be aimed at easing out then Prasar Bharati Chairman, MV Kamath.
An upper age limit of 70 years was also introduced for the position of Chairman. The I&B Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said these changes would help bring diversity of experience at the top level for the benefit of the organisation. The Minister pointed out in the statement of objects and reasons that it was felt necessary to rationalise such matters “in order to inject sectoral experience to rejuvenate Prasar Bharati and its Board.”

The Prasar Bharati Act vests the PBS with special responsibilities and purpose though the PBS has remained bureaucratic and more often than not toes the government line. If Indian Mass Media is to play a meaningful role in building an egalitarian democratic society, organization like the PBS will need to address the needs of an audience which finds it difficult to get two square meals to meet. The Prasar Bharati Act in principle aims at exactly this. The real autonomy, albeit, has remained elusive.

1 comment:

  1. Hello sir,
    The information provided by you is of very much help.
    Thank you.