The recent debate whether Prasar Bharti needs to be granted more autonomy or not, leads us to understand the history, legal provisions, structure, and future of Prasar Bharati in India.
Prasar Bharati is a statutory autonomous body established under the Prasar Bharati Act and came into existence on 23.11.1997.
It is the Public Service Broadcaster of the country. The objectives of public service broadcasting are achieved in terms of Prasar Bharati Act through All India Radio and Doordarshan, which earlier were working as media units under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and since the above said date became constituents of Prasar Bharati.
What is Prasar Bharati Act, 1990?
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.”
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.”
Section 12 (3)(b) reinforces that the purpose of establishing the corporation is to gather news, not propaganda.
I. B.G. Verghese Committee (1978):
It 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.”
II. 1979: 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.
III. 1982: 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
IV. The Prasar Bharati Bill was passed in 1990. The Prasar Bharati Act was eventually implemented in 1997.
The major objectives of the Prasar Bharati Corporation as laid out in the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990 are as follows:
To uphold the unity and integrity of the country and the values enshrined in the Constitution;
To promote national integration;
To safeguard citizens’ rights to be informed on all matters of public interest by presenting a fair and balanced flow of information;
To pay special attention to the fields of education and spread of literacy, agriculture, rural development, environment, health & family welfare and science & technology;
To create awareness about women’s issues and take special steps to protect the interests of children, aged and other vulnerable sections of the society;
To provide adequate coverage to diverse cultures, sports and games and youth affairs;
To promote social justice, safeguarding the rights of working classes, minorities and tribal communities.
To promote research and expand broadcasting faculties & development in broadcast technology.
The Corporation is governed by the Prasar Bharati Board, which comprises:
an Executive Member (Chief Executive Officer),
a Member (Finance),
a Member (Personnel),
six Part-time Members,
a representative of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and
the Directors General of All India Radio and Doordarshan as ex-officio Members.
The Chairman is a part time member with a 3 year tenure, subject to the age limit of 70 years.
The Executive Member has a tenure of five years, subject to the age limit of 65 years. Member (Finance) and Member (Personnel) are whole time members with a six year tenure, subject to the age limit of 62 years.
The Prasar Bharati Board meets at least 6 times in a year and between the two meetings there should not be a time gap of 3 months or more.
Demand for autonomy:
The need to protect the autonomous identity of Prasar Bharati Corporation was highlighted by its chairman, A. Surya Prakash in 2018.
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”.
Mass media means technology that is intended to reach a mass audience. It is the primary means of communication used to reach the vast majority of the general public.
Even today, there are regions in the country having no access to cable televisions, or internet. In these circumstances, Prasar Bharati, with its wide reach caters to masses, with All India Radio and Doordarshan. Its significance knows no limits.