Prasar Bharati

“The world has become smaller and smaller and finally it has been captured in the idiot box sitting in the living room”…lines of a very popular Bengali song that accurately describes today’s satellite television network, armed with its set top box or DTH platforms. With nearly 200 channels at your fingertips, satellite television takes you from Budapest to Nigeria, in a flash. Besides some of the channels are HD (High Definition) for enhanced viewing pleasure. And if you happen to own a 48 inch LED television, for those few hours of TV viewing, the world is yours. The urban areas of our country have been invaded by cable TV and DTH platforms. The concept of “terrestrial” television is extinct. Even in the rural areas, the concept of satellite television has started its conquest. Television sets are still expensive, so it’s not easily affordable by the rural people but there is always a satellite television available somewhere for community viewing and you can expect a guaranteed houseful.

Like cable television now, radio became a rage in the 1920s. However, cable television has pushed the radio and transistors in the corner too. Radio received a shot in the arm with the advent of FM channels and now with so many FM channels available, radio has once again become a preferred source of entertainment. Especially in the rural areas with the private FM channels broadcasting 24X7, pouring out pure entertainment, the radio has become a cheap and reliable source of relaxation.

But there is always a price tag. With so much entertainment around who is suffering the losses most? The answer is simple, Prasar Bharati (PB), the Government’s Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Akashvani or All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan are the two main branches of Prasar Bharati.
But if we look at the facts clinically, Doordarshan (DD) with all its six All India channels (DD National, DD news, DD Bharati, DD Urdu, DD sports and DD India), eleven regional channels, four emerging Hindi channels (under development) and a handful of few-hours-a-day channels, is barely surviving the tough competition from the multinationals and big independent business houses.

AIR is in a slightly better shape since AIR operates FM stereo channels like AIR FM Rainbow targeting both the urban and rural audience in a refreshing style of presentation. Four more FM channels called AIR FM Gold, broadcast composite news and entertainment programs from Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai.

Public Broadcasting Systems all over the world face an existential crisis, caught in the crossfire of serving the public and private good, as an agenda setter through technologies of broadcasting and implementing programs that entertain as well as educate. However, in our country PB can earn money by restructuring the oversized transmission and broadcasting wing, which can be hived off in to an independent profit centre as a PB Transmission Corporation, servicing not just PB but private channels and corporate houses as well. Besides, there is a common misconception that since PB is funded by the government, it will essentially dance to the tune of the government. That is one of the major causes that discourage the viewers, resulting in the falling TRP, though TRP is not a very efficient method of rating a channel.

Radio, the poor relative of the television is thriving mostly on the private FM channels. Radio is cheap and the transistor ubiquitous. However, AIR that once rendered such notable service has been cruelly delimited. In rural areas, a man after a hard days work will obviously tune in to some jivey FM channel rather than some sitar recital on AIR before hitting the bottle of the country liquor.

With the advent of satellite television the resulting growth of multi-channel networks has made the global media landscape multicultural, multilingual and of course multinational. Digital communication technologies in broadcasting and broadband has given the viewers of our country the ability to access simultaneously a vast array of local, national, regional and international television in various genres. Satellite television is here to stay. Government is trying hard to restore the significance of Prasar Bharati. It has delegated Prasar Bharati’s financial powers up to Rs. 300 crores. However, there is not a single financial appraisal officer in position to make this financial autonomy possible.

In fact, Prasar Bharati has lost the fight with satellite television even before it started. Prasar Bharati now stands at the crucial crossroads of being declared “sick”, and that will result in a considerable number of unemployment, that is unwanted in every way.