Media have to be free to be credible, and competent. Too much political pressure and intervention usually makes the media to be a puppet in the hands of politicians and pressure groups.
Media in a democracy at the same time should not be that free to do anything that may go against the concept of a welfare state.
Therefore, the question autonomy with accountability, or accountability without autonomy, or autonomy without accountability is of prime importance. India needs a free and objective media. Greater accountability increases political involvement, and greater autonomy may decrease credibility.
With the technological development government’s ability to enforce regulations, is weakening. Technology challenges, defeats broadcasting controls and regulations. With the advent of cable TV, Direct-to-home TV, the Internet and a convergence in communication modes, there is no fool proof way to control the movement of data, information and entertainment.
All India Radio and Doordarshan were under direct control of the government between 1959-1997. The 1990 Prasar Bharati Act was implemented in 1997 via an ordinance by the UF government’s Jaipal Reddy. But in May 1998, it was allowed to lapse by his successor, Sushma Swaraj, demanding more accountability. Swaraj’s successor, Mahajan, stayed with her decision.
Since then, Prasar Bharati has acting CEOs. Other vacancies on the Board exist from the summer of 1998 — including the vital posts of chairman, and member finance. There are no director generals for AIR or DD either. Prasar Bharati struggles to live.
The problem lies with not ‘accountability. Because, there is an I&B nominee on the Board and an I&B parliamentary standing committee; an annual report has to be submitted to Parliament; and there’s always the Comptroller and Auditor General. Problem lies with political interference in appointments.
Brief Study of the Prasar Bharati Act, 1990
The Prasar Bharati Act aims at establishing a Broadcasting Corporation for India, to be known as Prasar Bharti. All property, assets, debts, obligations and liabilities incurred, all contracts entered into, cases of akashvani and Doordarshan, shall be transferred to management of the corporation. The corporation is free of Income tax.
The corporation shall function under the government, functioning under its directions, submitting information to government whenever asked for, accounts are auditable by government, and government grants are assured.
The primary duty of the corporation is to organize and conduct public broadcasting service to inform, educate and entertain the public and to ensure a balanced development of broadcasting on radio and television;
Ø upholding the unity and integrity of the country and the values enshrined in the constitution;
Ø safeguarding the citizen’s right to be informed freely, truthfully and objectively on all matters of public interest, national or international, and presenting a fair and balanced flow of information including contrasting views without advocating any opinion or ideology of its own;
Ø paying special attention to the fields of education and spread of literacy, agriculture, rural development, environment, health and family welfare and science and technology;
Ø providing adequate coverage to the diverse cultures and languages of the various regions of the country by broadcasting appropriate programmes;
Ø providing adequate coverage of sports and games so as to encourage healthy competition and the spirit of sportsmanship;
Ø providing appropriate programmes keeping in view the special needs of the youth; informing and stimulating the national consciousness in regard to the status and problems of women and paying special attention to the upliftment of women;
Ø promoting social justice and combating exploitation, inequality and such evils as untouchability and advancing the welfare of the weaker sections of the society;
Ø safeguarding the rights of the working classes and advancing their welfare;
Ø serving the rural and weaker sections of the people and those residing in border regions, backward or remote areas;
Ø providing suitable programmes keeping in view the special needs of the minorities and tribal communities;
Ø taking special steps to protect the interests of children, the blind, the aged, the handicapped and other vulnerable sections of the people;
Ø promoting national integration by broadcasting in a manner that facilitates communication in the languages in India; and facilitating the distribution of regional broadcasting services in every state in the languages of that state;
Ø providing comprehensive broadcast coverage through the choice of appropriate technology and the best utilization of the broadcast frequencies available and ensuring high quality reception;
Ø promoting research and development activities in order to ensure that radio and television broadcast technology are constantly updated; and
Ø expanding broadcasting facilities by establishing additional channels of transmission at various levels.
To this end, the corporation may take any steps to
Ø to ensure that broadcasting is conducted as a public service to provide and produce programmes;
Ø to establish a system for the gathering of news for radio and television;
Ø to negotiate for purchase of, or otherwise acquire, programmes and rights or privileges in respect of sports and other events, films, serials, occasions, meetings, functions or incidents of public interest, for broadcasting and to establish procedures for the allocation of such programmes, rights or privileges to the service;
Ø to establish and maintain a library of libraries of radio, television and other materials;
Ø to conduct or commission, from time to time, programmes, audience research, market or technical service, which may be released to such persons and in such manner and subject to such terms and conditions as the corporation may think fit;
Ø to provide such other services as may be specified by regulations.
The corporation in accordance with the terms and conditions specified by the government, may arrange reimbursement of expenses by the central government for the broadcasts made by organizations outside India.
To ensure the objectives are met, the central government shall have the power to determine the maximum limit of broadcast time in respect of the advertisement.
The corporation shall be subject to no civil liability on the ground merely that it failed to comply with any of the provisions of this section.
The corporation shall have the power to determine and levy fees and other service charges for or in respect of the advertisements and such programmes within the range set by the government.
There shall be constituted a committee consisting of 22 members of parliament, of whom 15 from the House of the People to be elected by the members thereof and seven from the Council of States to be elected by the members thereof in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote, to oversee that the corporation discharges its functions in accordance with the provisions of this act and, in particular, the objectives set out in section 12 and submit a report thereon to parliament. The committee shall function in accordance with such rules as may be made by the speaker of the House of the People.
A Broadcasting Council shall receive and consider complaints and advise the corporation in the discharge of its functions.
The broadcasting council shall consist of a president and 10 other members to be appointed by the President of India from amongst persons of eminence in public life; and four members of parliament, of whom two from the House of the People to be nominated by the speaker thereof and two from the Council of States to be nominated by the chairman.
The broadcasting council may constitute such number of regional councils as it may deem necessary to aid and assist the council in the discharge of its functions.
No suit or other legal proceeding shall lie against the corporation, the chairman or any other member or officer or other employee thereof the president or a member of the broadcasting council or a member of a regional council or a recruitment board for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done on pursuance of this act or of any ruled or regulations made there under.