Broadly MESSED

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The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has remained a mess ever since the Modi government took over, with especially the film certification and FTII issues raging on the centre stage

HARSH RANJAN

HARSH RANJAN

Harsh Ranjan is a News Personality with over 25 years experience in TV and Digital media. He has worked in senior editorial positions at Aaj Tak, India TV, ANI and Sahara Samay TV. He has also been a media educator and was HoD and Professor of Media Studies at Sharda University

When my Editor asked me to review the major achievements of the Information & Broadcasting ministry in the past three years, I was reluctant for the obvious reason that I couldn’t think of anything major the ministry had done.

Rather, I recalled some controversies and some failures. However, after a chat with my editor, we were able to work out a story line, ‘Achievements: positive and negative’.

The ‘positives’ aren’t hard to find, the ministry’s website is full of them beginning with Profit & Loss accounts, transparency in administration, government connect with the people, development and expansion plans, so on and so forth. Frankly, nothing there to draw the average Indian.

The paradox is where the ministry has muddled and floundered, the Prime Minister has succeeded. His connect with the people through ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on All India Radio has revived a platform considered all but dead.

Modi’s first Mann Ki Baat was broadcast on 3rd October, 2014 and was an instant hit with the average listener. That got private media houses interested and for the first time, private TV news channels cut to Mann Ki Baat live, a practice which continues.

Despite his busy schedule, Modi has managed to record Mann Ki Baat every month without a break, indicative of his determination to connect with the people. So far 31 episodes of Mann Ki Baat have been aired and all the episodes have been featured in the next day’s papers.

‘Mann Ki Baat’ can be accessed on the AIR website www.newsonair.com.

Impoverished Look

Unfortunately, the look and feel of the website has not changed over the past many years. It looks more like a government department website, less that of a news organisation. The site appears dated in design, content seems tailored for desktops and laptops when 80 per cent of news traffic today is accessed on mobile phones and tablets. The AIR news website is mobile responsive but terribly cluttered, which does suggest that I&B minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore either does not visit it or does so rarely.

Senior ministry officials have told me that AIR news depends entirely on PTI. “You shut down the PTI services and see what happens. The newsroom will come to a halt,” said a recently retired Information Service official. This is something we need to introspect upon:

AIR is the largest news network in the country. It operates from some of the best infrastructures in almost all major cities and has huge financial support from the government. Yet, it is unable to deliver without PTI!

Marketing Madness

I was told that while a sales and marketing department does exist in AIR, it’s a herculean task to place an advertisement. Many committees have been constituted and recommendations made but it seems the concerned persons are ignorant of the basic ‘standard operating procedure’ of professional radio stations.

Notwithstanding the need to fine tune basics of the existing system, the government is in a hurry to improve its data card. The capability of ‘direct to home’ platform Free Dish has been increased from 59 to 104 TV channels, of which 80 are already on air and orders have been placed for implementation of the Indian Conditional Access System (ICAS).

Apart from DD Kisan, 24-hour Doordarshan channels have been launched in Bihar, MP, UP, Rajasthan and Saptagiri from Vijaywada. No doubt these launches add to the ministry’s credit list but nobody seems to be looking closely at the content quality, nor for that matter at the infrastructure and manpower required.

Kisan Chaos

DD Kisan is a burning example. The channel was launched with much fanfare on May 26, 2015 to mark one year of the Modi government. The Prime Minister used the occasion to make a strong pitch for agricultural growth and promised that the channel would provide farmers with information about best practices and related content.

He said, “Why cannot experts from various fields including seed, soil and fertiliser come together to help farmers and increase productivity? The farming community is a big one. And, if we have to take India forward, we will have to take the villages forward.” Modi said crop productivity could go up by 50 per cent with the help of Kisan Channel.

Rajyavardhan Rathore had also said, “This channel will inform, educate and update farmers with the latest developments in farming on a 24x7 basis.” He underscored the point that this was the first such initiative by a Public Broadcaster to start a 24-hour channel dedicated to farmers.

There’s little doubt that both the prime minister and Rathore were sincere in their intentions, but something has gone seriously wrong with DD Kisan. Two years after the launch of Kisan Channel, Prasar Bharti is now planning to constitute a five member committee which will decide and approve the content to be aired. It will also look at giving the channel a new look.

The content committee should give a 360 degree fillip to the channel. The committee comprises of the ADG (Finance), ADG (Programming) and three others from Doordarshan. The ministry has set up a revenue target of Rs 80 crore for DD Kisan for the current fiscal, an increase of Rs 20 crore from the previous fiscal.

Let’s now look at the Northeast: The Prime Minister’s case for promoting the development of this region has seen I&B set up the technical facilities for the launch of the new TV channel DD Arun Prabha. It could be launched in August. Also, new earth stations have been set up at Indore, Rajkot, Vijayawada and Jalpaiguri. Earth stations at Leh, Chandigarh, Hisar, Panaji and Port Blair (except RF equipment) have been modernised. Incidentally, the government has earned Rs 1,160 crore from the first round of FM radio auctions, and Rs 202 crore from the second round.

Saffron Clutches

The ministry of I&B also controls institutions like FTII, CBFC, IIMC, DAVP etc. Of these, the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) has been wracked by controversies largely because of the man who currently heads it, Pahlaj Nihalani. (Gajendra Chauhan who was heading FTII has thankfully moved on). But the saffronisation of these institutions has left intellectuals across the country infuriated.

CBFC has been associated with various scandals in the past too. Movie producers reportedly bribed the CBFC to get the coveted ‘U’ certificate to avail of 30% exemption in entertainment tax, despite violent scenes and coarse dialogue. A CEO of CBFC was arrested in August 2014 for accepting bribes. The former chairperson of CBFC, Leela Samson resigned alleging political interference after the film MSG: Messenger of God was denied a certificate, but that decision was overturned by an appellate tribunal. Samson was replaced by Pahlaj Nihalani. His appointment caused more than half the board members to resign, alleging that he was close to the ruling party.

The CBFC was panned on social media for reducing two kissing scenes in the movie Spectre. It demanded an unprecedented 90 cuts in the movie Udta Punjab. It required a court directive for the film to be released with an ‘A’ certificate. It is alleged that Pahlaj Nihalani does not deserve to head the CBFC, but his proximity to the BJP and the Sangh won him the job. Nihalani is known to have produced mostly B-grade Hindi films. It is worth mentioning here that in the past, film personalities like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Sharmila Tagore, Shakti Samanta and Anupam Kher were chairpersons of the CBFC. They brought grace, dignity and rich experience to that role. It’s a pity those days are gone. May be Step One could be bringing in people of such stature to head these institutions.

FTII Fiasco

Gajendra Chauhan, a below average actor and a BJP member, came to limelight after he played the role of Yudhishthira in the Tele serial Mahabharat directed by BR Chopra. Chauhan was appointed the chairman of FTII on June 9, 2015.

The students at FTII believed that Chauhan’s credentials are not something like that he should be appointed the Chairman. They protested and finally, after three days of his appointment, went on an indefinite strike on June 12, 2015. The students were highly agitated and they also got the backing from the film industry over the issue.

No one wanted to see Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman of the new Governing Council, the body responsible for making all policy decisions of the institute by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. The position was vacant since Director Saeed Mirza’s term ended in 2014. Students at the Pune-based institute ended their strike after 139 days on 28th October, 2015; but continued their opposition to the appointments of Gajendra Chauhan and four other officials. March 3, 2017, was the last day in the office for Chauhan. But it is still not clear whether he has got an extension or the post is lying vacant.

The FTII website does not give details on the Chairman. The students and the film fraternity feel that it was a politically-motivated appointment of a candidate who was poorly qualified to head the premier institute.

In totality, MIB has announced many new initiatives for almost all its arms. But unless these initiatives meet a fool-proof implementation, and the government starts working on basics, the desired result is difficult to be met.

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