By Itika Singh:
The Prasar Bharti Board may soon have cause to rejoice. Reports suggest that the key post of the Chairman of the Board, which has been vacant since May of this year, might be filled soon. A number of media organisations, claiming highly placed sources, have discussed the near-certain possibility of A. Surya Prakash being appointed as the new chairman. The speculation alone has kicked off a storm because of the political nature of this appointment. Many believe that Prakash has been selected because of his ideological leanings which have been critical of the Congress party. More importantly, he is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi based Think-Tank which is closely linked to the RSS, which in turn is the ideological ancestor to the ruling BJP party.
The Prasar Bharti Board is the Public Service Broadcaster of the country. It comprises of national TV Broadcaster Door Darshan (DD) and national radio broadcaster All India Radio (AIR). It is run by the Prasar Bharti Board, which consists of a total of 13 members. Apart from the Chairman, 6 members are full-time members and 6 part-time members. The post of the Chairman too is part-time for a term of 3 years.
A. Surya Prakash, ideologies aside, boasts of quite an impressive CV. His website describes him as an author and Columnist. In the past, he has held notable positions with a number of electronic and print media organisations. A complete list of his past positions consist of Editor for Zee News, Executive Editor for The Pioneer, India Editor for Asia Times, Political Editor for Eenadu Group, Chief of Bureau for Indian Express in New Delhi, Founder- Director of Pioneer Media School, Director of Film & Media School at Institute of Integrated Learning & Management and also Contributing Editor for Eternal India. Presently, his columns appear in The Pioneer, Dainik Jagran, Eenadu, Samyukta Karnataka and The Indian Republic. Prakash has also authored several publications, one of which is Public Money, Private Agenda— The Use and Misuse of MPLADS, which is based on the MP Local Area Development Scheme. He also has several more publications on the working of India’s Parliament including chapters in many books.
But his voluminous body of work is not free from his strong opinions. On his website, some of his articles categorised under “The Secular and the Pseudo Secular” have self-explanatory headlines such as “Hussain must not get away” (referring to MF Hussain), “Break all ties with Pakistan” and “Prosecute these atheist bullies”. Another category is dedicated to “The Nehru Gandhis and Our Democracy”. It includes headlines that read “Let Congress Explain 1984”, “Tainted Congress Blames BJP” and “India pays for Nehru’s folly”. In 1998, he raised the issue of Ms. Sonia Gandhi’s citizenship in a series of articles in The Pioneer. These articles then culminated in the publication of ‘Sonia Under Scrutiny — Issue of Foreign Origin‘, edited by Surya Prakash in 2004. In a recent venture, he has lodged a complaint with the Chief Election Commissioner of India against the naming of government schemes and infrastructure projects after members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. He has alleged that doing so builds the “Brand Nehru-Gandhi at the cost of the taxpayer”. Though the above cited works are in no way equal to a critical analysis of all of Surya Prakash’s works, they suffice to illustrate his ideological leanings.
The question that arises here is what Surya Prakash’s appointment as Prasar Bharti Chairman would means for the functioning of the nation’s Public Broadcaster. It must be noted that the post of the Chairman is more nominal than administrative. The one additional advantage that the Chairman has is of casting a second vote in cases of equality of votes, when deciding upon issues. In effect, the Chairman’s position can be compared to that of the President of the country. Though the President is the head of the nation, actual power resides in the Prime Minister. Similarly, within the Prasar Bharti Board, actual power of decision rests with the CEO and Director Generals of AIR and DD.
On the other hand, the very autonomy of the Board is contested. Though the Prasar Bharti Act was meant to establish it as an autonomous body, the organisation continues to remain accountable to the government (as opposed to the Parliament). This means that government organs, especially the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, wield a major influence in the functioning of Prasar Bharti. This happens in a number of indirect ways. For instance, the staff at AIR and DD is recruited by the Government of India and not by the Prasar Bharti Board. This automatically makes the employees loyal to the government, in order to safe-guard their jobs and subsequently, the bureaucrats aim to please their bosses, which ultimately is the Government. Another point to keep in mind is that the Prasar Bharti Board faces 6 vacancies, other than the Chairman. All 6 of these are part-time posts that are traditionally seen as political posts. This was seen as the reason behind the resignation of the former members who quit after the Central government changed hands this year. The filling up of these posts could be a clearer indicator of the future of Prasar Bharti than the post of the Chairman alone. If the present government chooses its favourites for these posts, half the board would be under direct influence of the government. Even before the election of board members, the broadcaster courted controversy for propagating right-wing opinions when it ran a dedicated live telecast covering the Vijay Dashami speech of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
However, there is yet another bit of information that can swing this debate. It must be kept in mind that the practice of electing people with politically favourable views to the ruling party is not a new one. The UPA government has long done this in the past. Even then, apart from a few exceptions, the broadcaster more or less maintained fairness and impartiality. So the BJP government doing the same shouldn’t bring a radical change. The focus would now be on how frequent such exceptions become under the new regime.