What is it?
- The twin objectives of the Prasar Bharati (Broadcast Corporation of India) Act of 1990 are crystallised in Section 12 of the law. Section 12 (3)(a) mandates that Prasar Bharati ensure that “broadcasting is conducted as a public service.”
- Again, Section 12 (3)(b) reinforces that the purpose of establishing the corporation is to gather news, not propaganda.
- The Act came into existence after decades of post-independence struggle to free broadcasting from the stranglehold of the government.
- The legislative intent of the Act finds an echo in the Supreme Court’s 1995 judgment in The Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting versus the Cricket Association of Bengal, which said the “first facet of the broadcasting freedom is freedom from state or governmental control, in particular from the censorship by the government… Public broadcasting is not to be equated with state broadcasting. Both are distinct.”
- The Prasar Bharati Corporation’s main objective is to provide autonomy to Doordarshan and Akashvani in order to “educate and entertain the public.”
How did it come about?
- The efforts for an autonomous broadcasting corporation can be traced to the post-Emergency B.G. Verghese Committee, which recommended the formation of Akash Bharati or the National Broadcast Trust for All India Radio and Doordarshan.
- The panel, in its February 1978 report, highlighted the need for a fiercely unbiased and independent corporation as “the executive, abetted by a captive Parliament, shamelessly misused the Broadcasting during Emergency.”
- The next year, Information and Broadcasting Minister L.K. Advani proposed a Bill for an autonomous corporation called Prasar Bharati for AIR and Doordarshan.
- But the Bill lapsed. Once the Janata Party imploded and Indira Gandhi came back in power, the Congress government appointed the P.C. Joshi Committee in 1982, with a narrow mandate of evaluating the programming of Doordarshan.
- The committee emphasised the lack of functional freedom in Doordarshan and said the “Ministry of Information and Broadcasting should be reorganised and a separate board, on the lines of the Railway Board, should be created, in which only people with professional experience should get entry.” The Prasar Bharati Bill was passed in 1990.
- The Prasar Bharati Act was eventually implemented in 1997.
Why does it matter?
- The need to protect the autonomous identity of Prasar Bharati Corporation was highlighted by its chairman, A. Surya Prakash, in a recent interview with The Hindu. Mr. Prakash alleged that the 1990 Act was being treated with “utter contempt.” For example, he referred to a Ministry directive that the Secretary, I&B, would appraise the Prasar Bharati CEO. Another directive wants the Prasar Bharati to get rid of contractual employees.
- That Prasar Bharati is an autonomous corporation is evident in Section 4.
- The Chairman and the other Members — except the ex-officio members, the nominated member and the elected members — shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee. The government has no part in the appointment.
- The Act points out that the CEO would be under the “control and supervision” of the Board and not the Central government.
- The Centre still holds the reins of Prasar Bharati as it has the power to make rules for the corporation, issue grants or allowances and control the salaries of employees.
- Section 22 gives the Centre powers to issue directions which it “may think necessary in the interests of the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India or the security of the State or preservation of public order” to not broadcast “any matter of public importance”.
- On the context of what true autonomy means for a broadcasting corporation, the Supreme Court has referred to a ruling by the German Constitutional Court, which said that “freedom from State control requires the legislature to frame some basic rules to ensure that government is unable to exercise any influence over the selection, content or scheduling of programmes”.