The full transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with the Information and Broadcasting Minister Jaipal Reddy on Why governments in India are afraid of autonomous public service broadcasters.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy the obvious first. Why are governments in India afraid of providing independence to state-run media?
Jaipal Reddy: I do not want to comment on the working style of my four immediate predecessors, but so far as I am concerned, my views on the autonomy of Prasar Bharti remain unchanged. I am committed to see that the public service broadcasters in India are autonomous. My views remain what they were seven years ago.
BBC listener from Muscat: Sir, there are many 24-hour private TV news channels, and similarly there is access to anything in the world on internet. Then why is radio under strict governmental control? Is it justified. What should we expect from the new government?
Jaipal Reddy: I agree there should be no control of the government on Akashwani and Doordarshan. Legally, the Prasar Bharti is autonomous, all of you would recall that I implemented the Prasar Bharti Act granting autonomy to this institution. At the moment, the major weakness being faced by Prasar Bharti is about the financial resources. Till the moment any institution is dependant on the government for finances, it cannot be expected to work independently.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy, but if we look at the past five six years, the entire idea of autonomy to Prasar Bharti has been throttled in a very strange way. Look at the political appointments. What sort of autonomy are we talking about ?
Jaipal Reddy: I agree with this, but then see the party which tried these tactics has been defeated by the people. There is no point in being critical on those rejected by the people, I am looking at the positive programme for the future now. My attention at the moment is focused at the financial autonomy of Prasar Bharti.
Nagendar Sharma: But how would you provide financial autonomy to Prasar Bharti?
Jaipal Reddy: Today the expenditure of Prasar Bharti is Rs 1800 crore and the income is Rs 600 crore. Now for Rs 1200 crore, it is dependant on the government. Till the time Prasar Bharti is dependant for this money on the government, autonomy cannot be there practically. Today I am the minister, tomorrow somebody else could be there, so could be another government. Therefore to put an end to this financial autonomy is the answer.
So far as how to do this--there are several options. Look at Britain, the country from where you are talking to me, there the BBC generates its resources from the Licence Fees. Since the BBC has its own resources, it is independent and autonomous. Similarly, the Prasar Bharti should also be independent and autonomous. How to do it? I am working on this and looking for possible ways in consultation with all.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy, you are talking about revolutions and financial autonomy of Prasar Bharti. But the real situation is that all governments have made political appointments in Prasar Bharti Board, and the word autonomy exists in paper only. Isn’t this a sad state of affairs? What are the plans to reverse this ?
Jaipal Reddy: I do feel sad about political appointments. But the practical reality is that such appointments are bound to be there in the existing political system and the only way out of this is providing financial autonomy to Prasar Bharti and this is what this government is working at.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy from where would the resources be generated for this financial autonomy?
Jaipal Reddy: See I am giving the example of Britain for financial resources, where the licence fees is the source. In India, there used to a licence fee earlier, which was abolished. It could be there again, a small cess could be levied, there are several other ideas like this. But no final decision has been taken so far.
BBC listener from Japan : Sir ever since the idea of Prasar Bharti was mooted way back in 1989, even after 15 years, this institution’s autonomy leaves a lot be desired. The tradition of political appointments is continuing without any break. And appointees are those who dance to the tune of their mentors. What would do you do for real autonomy?
Jaipal Reddy: See, legally Prasar Bharti is autonomous, as I said earlier, financially it is not. I am not thinking about changes in these appointments. In our country the culture of autonomy is not there. We would have to encourage this culture. The officers appointed in India work as subordinates.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Reddy the new government has made a good beginning in the HRD ministry by appointing a committee of the experts to select the NCERT chairman. Would this be the case for all appointments so that this menace of political appointments be brought to an end and nobody should be able to point a finger and accuse the governments?
Jaipal Reddy: I am working to put an end to such accusations only.
Nagendar Sharma: Would you elaborate Mr Reddy?
Jaipal Reddy: I would not like to bring any changes in the Prasar Bharti board. But the culture which has been there to speak only in the favour of the government would be changed. I am working in this direction.
BBC listener from Raipur: Sir, why do the governments in India ignore radio? There are so many cable channels in India, but the poor man who can only afford radio has to be content with Akashwani. Why can’t radio listeners listen to world class news? The previous government had inaugurated FM for Vividhbharti in 2001, but even that is not fully operational so far.
Jaipal Reddy: I agree that radio in India has been ignored to a large extent. I am going to give particular attention to the future of radio. So far as the local problem is concerned, it has been brought to my notice, I would look into it and take steps.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy, the TV revolution has changed the face of TV in India, but haven’t the radio and print been left behind?
Jaipal Reddy: I feel the newspapers of India are doing well even when compared at the world level. I think the Indian papers do compete well at the international level. There is no need for a revolution for the newspapers. For the radio, yes there is definitely a scope for improvement in radio, we are working on it.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy why has the radio in India been in so much tighter governmental control and what is the plan for future?
Jaipal Reddy: The utility of radio has to be understood. Till now the governments have not realised the radio potential, which has to be done now. We are encouraging private radio stations on the FM, and the potential of radio in Prasar Bharti would be encouraged further.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Reddy, even the private stations on FM are for music programmes, and the governments in India are reluctant to open radio for news and current affairs. Why?
Jaipal Reddy: We have not thought about this issue so far. It is not easy to bring a revolution overnight. At the moment we are dealing with some fresh issues arising out of FM opening--let us solve that first.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Reddy, news and current affairs of the entire world is available on TV, all views are available on internet--why should radio listeners suffer? Why not allow them to listen to world programmes ?
Jaipal Reddy: As an individual, I have my views, but now being a minister, I would not like to comment at this moment.
BBC listener from UAE : Sir I feel that if autonomy is given to Prasar Bharti, corrupt officials would be exposed. Look at the Tehelka case, so much pressure was exerted on Terun Tejpal, that the case was lost somewhere, as independence of media was undermined. You are back in the ministry what would you do now?
Jaipal Reddy: Tehelka was a private company and Prasar Bharti is a public broadcasting corporation. The CBI has a right to check corruption, CAG is there for accounting and auditing accuracy. My view is that by being independent, the scope of corruption is not there and such questions would not be there then.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Reddy Tehelka is an example of how ruling parties in India can undermine the independence of media, by witch-hunting against those organisations which expose inconvenient stories.
Jaipal Reddy: Such tendencies and such culture would have to be brought to an end. The way in which the previous government tried to suppress the Tehelka case has not been liked by the Indian public and that is why the people voted against the BJP-led alliance.
BBC listener from Bhopal : Sir, almost all TV channels showed opinion and exit polls during the recent general elections, and their findings are for all to see. How could a few analysts with their laptops be allowed to create an opinion for this vast country and that too wrong. Is the government looking at some corrective measures ?
Jaipal Reddy: You are right, it is impossible to capture the public mood through any survey in a vast and diverse country like ours, but imposing a ban on such surveys is also not a good idea. I am in favour of a regulatory framework for the accountability of such surveys.
Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Reddy, there is a widespread perception that election surveys affect the voters’ mind. How would you make the psephologists accountable and what standards should be there for them?
Jaipal Reddy: We would have to work for a regulatory framework to fix the accountability of these polls, which would be based on unanimity between all political parties--it is not a question of any particular party. I am not in favour of any ban on such surveys as it would be against the spirit of democracy in India.
BBC listener from Hyderabad : Mr Reddy, foreign newspapers and periodicals, which deal with news and current affairs are not allowed to have their editions from India. This is due to a Cabinet Resolution of 1955. This has been in place for five decades now, would your government continue with this in print media?
Jaipal Reddy: See, the Cabinet Resolution of 1955 is still valid, but a number of changes over the years have taken place. Earlier Foreign Direct Investmant (FDI) was not allowed at all, but now you have the FDI up to 26 percent in print media. Similarly, seven and a half percent of the content of foreign newspapers can be used through syndication. So, many changes have been made over the years, and we feel at the moment, the changes made so far are sufficient.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy the day you assumed charge, you had expressed happiness on the stand taken by BBC in the stand-off against the British government. You favour a BBC style of functioning. From where would you begin?
Jaipal Reddy: Well, the beginning would have to be done by the Prasar Bharti, I am the minister. I can provide independence, but it is the Prasar Bharti which has to do it. The thinking is to have a culture of independence and autonomy.
BBC listener from Udaipur : Sir, any government which comes to power, tries to impose its views and ideology on Prasar Bharti, which as badly undermined the institution and its impartiality and autonomy. For example the last government, even started a 24 hour news channel on Doordarshan closer to the elections. It clearly shows how the governments use state media as a tool. Would your government be different or would the same things continue?
Jaipal Reddy: Before the elections our party had also accused the government of misusing this channel. But today I would not like to go into the past. I can assure you that our party and our government would not misuse the Prasar Bharti in any way, we are clear.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy, however the original question remains, that there are ways and means to misuse the Prasar Bharti, why not make a law so that this misuse becomes impossible for all future governments?
Jaipal Reddy: See precisely for this reason, I am trying to bring a change in the system. So that the autonomy of Prasar Bharti is not dependant on the personality of the minister concerned. I would take steps to have a new tradition of autonomy.
Nagendar Sharma: But despite this tall talk of autonomous tradition, having appointees of a particular ideology in All India Radio and Doordarshan, which have the maximum reach in the country, isn’t this injustice with the people of the country ?
Jaipal Reddy: It is injustice beyond doubt, I agree, and I feel that diverse viewpoints should find a place in AIR and DD.
BBC listener from Abohar : Sir, but what we have seen in our country is, that on AIR and DD you hear and see only the ruling party. What is the biggest obstacle in your view in making them autonomous?
Jaipal Reddy: The biggest obstacle is our own tendency. For any change, first of all, the minister and the officials would have to change and develop an independent mindset. The second problem is absence of financial autonomy and till the time any institution is dependant on the government financially, it cannot be independent.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy your plan of financial autonomy could run into trouble, particularly from your allies the Left parties. Are you confident of their support?
Jaipal Reddy: I can say about the Left parties that they are like myself committed about the autonomy of the public service broadcasters. They would not raise objections to resource generation, I am confident on this front.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy you say autonomy for Prasar Bharti, with financial autonomy is your priority. What else figures in your priority list?
Jaipal Reddy: There is a lack of clarity in the print media policy. There is this issue of FIIs and what should be the definition of speciality magazines, I would try to bring a clarity to this media policy, by clearly defining these terms.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Reddy, in the end, I would like to ask whether your government would reverse and change the policies of the NDA government , to which your party and your allies were opposed ?
Jaipal Reddy: We would change only where it is necessary. But I am clear that we would not make unnecessary changes. The government is a continuous institution, and abrupt changes are not in the interest of the country.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine