Growing unrest at All India Radio and Doordarshan

The protesting employees have slammed Prasar Bharti for not spending enough on content creation and recruiting non-professionals to head key programme posts, denying them time-bound promotions

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Ashutosh Sharma

Amid growing speculations that Narendra Modi government may dissolve Prasar Bharati after 2019 and convert Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio (AIR) into corporations, employees of the two bodies have been agitating since Wednesday.

The protesting employees—who have been holding demonstrations across the country—have slammed the autonomous body for not spending enough on content creation, recruiting non-professionals to head key programme posts on deputation basis, denying time-bound promotions to the deserving employees.

According to sources, AIR and DD are reeling under shortage of senior programme officers as more than 1,000 posts of Indian Broadcasting Programme Service (IBPS) are lying vacant against the sanctioned 1,038 posts in both the organisations. IBPS cadre officers are allegedly non-existent at the level of Deputy Director, Director and Deputy Director General whereas at the top level Additional Director General rank there are only two officers from this cadre and remaining positions have been grabbed by other services.

The protesting employees blame official apathy at the highest decision-making level. “Policy impasse has crippled system and if this is allowed to continue both the prestigious organisations will have an untimely demise,” said a programme office, who did not wish to be named. “More than fifty percent of the programme staff have already retired, the rest will retire in another two or three years and there hasn’t been sufficient intake of new recruits either.”

In the last 20 years, at least ₹30,00 crore have been spent by Prasar Bharati for its secretarial operation alone while failing to bring in any meaningful autonomy on its financing, content creation and administrative structure, according to sources.

Talking to the National Herald, several Programme Officers at AIR and DD revealed that revenue and viewership has been steadily falling in the last ten years and this year it has touched all time low.

They alleged that such a similar situation cannot be imagined in any other service where officers who joined at the rank of gazetted officers have not been promoted and remain in the same post for 25 to 30 years. “Even after thirty years of regular service, Programme Officers are languishing in the same grade and have not been promoted to higher posts in IBPS,” said another office, lamenting that while they are deprived of their dues for decades, officials from other services such as Indian Defence Estate Services, Indian Ordinance Factory Services, Indian Information Services, Central Secretariat Services and Indian Revenue Services are being brought on deputation basis. Recently two officers of Indian Telecom Service joined as ADG (Programme) which IBPS cadre officers claim as their domain.

IBPS recruitment rules state that a person must have a mandatory experience of 17 years in the field of art, culture, education, publicity and experience in production of programmes is required to be considered for the post of Additional DG-Programme.

“Those being brought from other cadres and services have no experience in these fields and have been hand-picked at the whims and fancies of the top management of Prasar Bharati. Here, these ex-cadre officers not only enjoy higher status but also get deputation allowance to which they are not entitled as their selection is neither in compliance with the rules nor in accordance with the vacancy notice,” rued an officer.

“Currently there are only two Additional Director General rank Programme Officers from the IBPS; a programme cadre of DD and AIR,” said an employee, adding that DD and AIR stations are mostly headed by officers from the Engineering wing while content and programme responsibilities are the domains of IBPS cadre officers.

“Most of these posts are increasingly being occupied by other services with less exposure in programming and related services which ultimately result into loss of viewership and revenue for the public broadcasters.”

“Out of 24,000 people working in Prasar Bharati, only 15% have a programming background,” said sources. “Out of the total budget only less than 15% is spent on content creation while it can be seen that public service broadcasters all over the world spend 70 per cent of their budget for programming,” added the source.

“Weakening of the public service broadcasting will severely hamper the communication scene in the country, which is predominantly being controlled by the market,” stressed a senior programme officer at DD, arguing how a “healthy competition from a credible public service broadcaster is quite essential to bring in more sanity” in the mass media sector.

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