The fact that the Government of India, should be identified as the owner of DD News and All India Radio, outlets of Prasar Bharati, is a story in itself. After all, Prasar Bharati was meant to be an autonomous organization – independent of the government of the day. There was a time in the late eighties and early nineties, that Doordarshan, the public broadcaster, increasingly resembled the mouthpiece of the government in power at the Centre. Back then, Doordarshan was the sole television news provider, and justifiably, the Opposition parties of the day, wanted to be seen and heard on Doordarshan, unedited and unmoderated. And thus, was born the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990 that sought to delink the government and the outlets of the public broadcaster.
It was not until 1997 that the Act became a reality. Though the Government of India got the spirit of “independent news coverage” right, in spirit it was never the case. Article 32 and 33 of the Prasar Bharati Act explicitly says that Prasar Bharati will need the approval of the Central Government in all critical issues including recruitment of personnel and salaries of employees of the Corporation. Prasar Bharati is financially supported by the Central Government. The government releases the payment to the Corporation on a monthly basis, through them Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, effectively handing controls to this Ministry. In 2018, Smriti Irani, Information and Broadcasting Minister at that time, withheld funds to Prasar Bharati for a month, that were needed to pay the salaries. The reason was Prasar Bharati’s refusal to pay a hefty fee to a private player, at the cost of the national broadcaster. The Corporation had to use its contingency funds to pay the salaries.
One of the interesting sidelights is this: The raison d'être of Prasar Bharati was independent news dissemination. With burgeoning of private channels, there is a surfeit of unmoderated news that is available to the public.
The information is collected from the Prasar Bharti website, the DD News website and the Prasar Bharti annual report. More information, and confirmation of the data collected, were sought from Prasar Bharati via email on 1 May and a courier on 3 May 2019. A response is awaited.