A desktop screen open with an eye on the flurry of e-mails; signing a sheaf of papers; taking calls; fixing meetings; and attending to visitors, CEO of Prasar Bharati (PB) Jawahar Sircar defies the stereotypes — of a lazy ‘sarkariyat’ and bureaucratism — associated with the organisation he heads.
Mr. Sircar’s energy appears to have translated into ratings for Doordarshan, where he admits, even employees were “giving up.” He passes on a sheet, showing DD News as having the highest General Rating Points in three out of four recent weeks. DD National is among the top four general entertainment channels “with a fraction of the budget the big players have.”
The ratings are contentious. Prasar Bharati itself filed a complaint against Television Audience Measurement (TAM) — the agency it quotes – in the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for unfair trade practices. Others snidely comment that DD’s claims are based on its terrestrial advantage. But Minister for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari tweeted: “DD News Night Prime Time is No 1 according to TAM in cable and satellite homes minus terrestrial.”
The psychological game
But the very fact that DD is staking a claim as leader and, as Centre for Media Studies chairman N. Bhaskara Rao puts it, “playing the psychological game” for eyeballs and advertisers, reflects a change in mindset.
Mr. Sircar points to changes. “There existed 15-20,000 vacancies. We have succeeded in recruiting new people for 3500 positions.” This is coupled with promotions, ‘though not at the pace it should happen’. The organisation is also contemplating incentivising teams involved in programmes that bring in higher revenues.
The other change is in introducing what have been usual practices in the private electronic media. DD had OB vans, which were used only on Republic Day – now it is out there on the field. Studio discussions depended on guests coming into studios – now cameramen go to guests who clip on and clip off microphones with images transmitted through ‘hot switching.’ Multiple cameras, split screens, bars and graphics have become usual while, in the past, a static screen was the norm except during elections.
But the key, Mr Sircar says, is sober and mature content. “Our dominating ethos is no screaming, no need to shout patriotic credentials. We want gravitas. We do not overplay rape, but the retribution to rape. We did not go overboard with the LOC beheadings.”
Asked whether the government had clear redlines, which DD could not cross, he claimed ‘not once’ has he been told to screen or blank out something. Instead, he said, Opposition views were represented, and DD grilled even serving or retired government officials on issues of the day.
But other sources admit to ‘pressures’ and ‘multiple tensions.’
New journalists were recruited, but they work alongside older professionals who are resentful of the higher salaries and ‘sense of entitlement’ of the lateral entrants. Completing the triangle is DG (News), who vets editorial content. Senior journalist Ajai Shukla was brought in to revamp prime time news, but quit as a result of precisely this interplay of forces. “Whether a government official, an Information Service Officer, should sit in the newsroom is a point of dispute,” admits an official.
Then there are tensions between the PB Board, which seeks more autonomy, and the I&B Ministry, which still sees DD as a propaganda wing. As Mr Tewari said at a recent event, “If two-thirds of my budget goes to PB, I cannot be at arms’s length.” This translates into requests for coverage, compromising the integrity of its programming.
Mr. Sircar laughs when asked about the rifts, and says it is a part of his job. The ratings boost the morale, and keep him going, even if at Rs 63,000 a month, he is the lowest-paid CEO of a national broadcaster in the country.