with K.S. Narayanan What's in a name? Plenty, if you believe the top brass at Doordarshan (DD). A move is reportedly afoot to give Mandi House a new name,Doordarshan House,as the men whose offices the central Delhi landmark building houses take the existing name too literally. DD has for long functioned more like a mandi (marketplace) than a modern, satellite-era broadcaster. Will a change of name mean the end of the avarice and ineptitude of DD's corrupt officials?
Unlikely. The DD rot runs very deep, as proved by the huge haul,over Rs 1 crore,made by the cbi from Delhi Doordarshan Kendra station director M.B. Pahari's house last week. Admits writer Rajendra Yadav, a Prasar Bharati board member: 'Cleaning up the place won't be a cakewalk.'
Hence, the Prasar Bharati board, which is in charge of DD and Akashvani, has drawn up a plan to weed out corruption from DD's corridors.Besides an overhaul of the rules pertaining to the acquisition and commissioning of programmes, the board has decided to transfer ,suspect' officials from sensitive posts in DD's corporate set-up in Delhi.
To refurbish DD's image as a corporation, it has been decided that payments for serials will now be staggered for better monitoring, that DD's dealings with software producers will be made more transparent and that efforts will be made to clear or reject proposals 'within 15 days'. Finally, cisf personnel will man entries to Mandi House so that 'undesirable elements',touts and middlemen,are kept out of DD's precincts.
'The problem with DD is the lack of transparency, which lets irregularities creep in,' says independent documentary film-maker Anwar Jamal. 'We pay Rs 5,000 for every proposal and, therefore, we're entitled to know within a stipulated time-frame what the fate of the proposal is.' Another independent TV producer Ashok Wankhede agrees: 'DD doesn't advertise any project nor does it invite tenders. It's all settled among people known to the officials.'
The result is a cesspool of malfeasance. The Pahari case, say DD insiders, is only the tip of the iceberg. With the Prasar Bharati having prepared a list of 70 officials 'who need to be watched', at least three deputy director-generals (ddgs),T.R. Malakar (DD 1), K.M. Anees-ul-Haq (programmes on Kashmir) and K. Kunhikrishnan (commercial services and sports),are under scrutiny. Haq, who also headed the DD cell set up to commemorate the 50th anniversary of independence, is charged with irregularities in the granting of several Kashmir shows to producers with doubtful credentials. Moreover, many of the shows commissioned by DD for the 50th anniversary celebrations at a huge cost never saw the light of day.
Kunhikrishnan has been asked to explain why DD loses money hand over fist despite bagging the rights of big sporting events. It recently lost over Rs 4 crore on the live telecast of Wimbledon and the French Open. It is also believed that a section of DD officials have been making a killing on the 5,000 to 7,000 seconds of ad slots that are sold during a limited-overs cricket match. Many of these 10-second slots, sold for Rs 65,000 each, are not accounted for and figures are fudged to siphon off big sums of money. And the excess advertising that so often eats into the live cricket, depriving viewers of the last and first balls of overs during a one-day game, doesn't enter DD's books either.
Doesn't the Prasar Bharati have a role to play here? 'We can't do much because we don't have the power to prosecute anybody,' says Yadav. 'All we can do is ask the investigating agencies to speed up the probe.' Many producers say their complaints and grievances are rarely addressed because DD's top officials are busy shielding each other. Not very long ago, a ddg had sent back a programme proposal from veteran filmmaker Basu Chatterjee with a jotting: 'lacks imagination'. What it meant was that the Mumbai-based producer-director wasn't willing to bribe his way through. It is this attitude of DD officials that generally keeps genuinely gifted software producers away. And makes Mandi House the haunt of the kind of fly-by-night operators that men like Pahari thrive on.