Discontent invades the airwaves of India

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The inflexible march of technology has transformed television broadcasting. It reached our homes via rooftop antennas, then cable, then satellite and now streaming. India’s public broadcaster Prasar Bharati says it is keeping pace, turning to digital streaming and cutting costs by turning off old technology.

However, some of its recent actions, such as the shutting down of FM Amruthavarshini on Akashvani in Bengaluru, have raised concerns about limiting its diverse content that responded to India’s multilingual tapestry by shutting down either its regional Doordarshan radios. and All India (AIR) centers or constantly understaffed.

Between 2017 and October 21, 2021, Prasar Bharati shut down 978 of its 1,300 “obsolete” terrestrial analogue television transmitters. It will deactivate the rest of the TCAs, with the exception of 50 which will continue in coastal and border areas for strategic reasons, by March 2022. As its CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati said, “Listening to the television is no longer done via the aerials on the roof in India. The phasing out of these antennas, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said, has already saved Rs 100 crore.

Also read: Questions Raised on Prasar Bharati’s Content Syndication Policy; CEO dispels concerns

The public broadcaster said it was only deactivating its ATT studios and not its Doordarshan, or DD, studios in regional centers, which would continue to generate local content.

For example, content from Kalaburagi will continue to be available on DD Chandana, the public broadcaster’s Kannada regional channel, and from DD Silchar on DD’s Assamese channel.

In a statement, the ministry pledged that these SD centers maintain their presence on digital media through YouTube and social media.

However, concerns remain about the sustainability of these SD centers and the quality of their content given the large number of vacancies that DD has not filled in its regional centers for years.

According to a response to a question from Rajya Sabha in April 2018, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting said that DD Gulbarga (now DD Kalaburagi) had 19 employees against the sanctioned workforce of 91.

According to another response in the Rajya Sabha in February 2019, the ministry produced an estimate of the number of vacancies in AIR and DD.

The evaluation was prepared in December 2016. It estimated the number of vacant positions at DD at over 3,000 while AIR had over 12,500 unfilled positions.

Interestingly, in the April 2018 response, the Minister said: “There were no plans to shut down the high power transmitters or the Doordarshan studio center in Gulbarga. In a response to another question in 2018, he said, “DD Kendra Sambalpur has produced programs with available human resources”, which were 42 vacancies against a sanctioned workforce of 74.

Indian linguistic minorities are worried about other concerns.

When BJP MP Lok Sabha Annapurna Devi, now Union Minister, asked in March of this year if she could watch Doordarshan Jharkhand on DTH, the ministry replied: “No proposal is under consideration. to notify Doordarshan Jharkhand as a mandatory channel to be broadcast by DTH. / Cable operators. In July 2019, the minister told Parliament that AIR had not included many of its channels, including Akashvani centers in Jharkhand, on the DTH platform due to the limited availability of slots to broadcast channels. radio. He did, however, promise to expand the capacity of the DTH platform to accommodate more radio channels.

Reasons for closure

Concerns arose after Prasar Bharati closed Amruthavarshini. Vempati defended the shutdown of the separate channel, citing its declining popularity and cost savings. He said the channel’s content will now have a two-hour slot on the multi-lingual Raagam channel. But as the former manager of Dharwad AIR station CU Bellakki points out, we should not look at public service broadcasting from a financial perspective. “As curators and promoters of culture, these channels promote the local flavor, and that’s Akashvani’s role.”

Udayadri, former deputy director of AIR station in Bengaluru, said residents of Bengaluru and those living in neighboring villages, including young people, were listening. “Few states and even parts of those states have Carnatic singers. Karnataka is one of them. The channel provided listeners with the opportunity to learn from renowned artists and gave opportunities to many local artists, ”he said.

Many see it as an attack on the rich heritage of Carnatic music and a loss of opportunities for local talent. Vempati has also been the subject of complaints on social media. Twitter users said the two-hour slot on Raagam could not make up for the 8.5 hours of classical music that Amruthavarshini streams per day, including live broadcasts and interactive content.

HS Saraswathi, a former station manager, who retired in 2018 and has worked with both Raagam and Amruthavarshini, explains that Raagam relays tailor-made programs sent from different states. From now on, there will be no more live programs, the time devoted to Carnatic music will decrease. Amruthavarshini also broadcasts folk music in its most original form. These hyperlocal broadcasts add to our rich archive, she says.

Even if people tune into Raagam, it won’t be in a language that they understand. “Akashvani has an important responsibility in the preservation and promotion of the fine arts. It is a huge responsibility. To support an organization, marketing can be important; we have to draw the line somewhere. Channels like Rainbow FM can be conducive to this end, the same cannot be expected from channels like Amruthavarshini, ”she said.

Others, however, see a program more insidious than just the financial aspect. A retired Akashvani official, Bengaluru, said there had been an attempt to broadcast an integrated program from Bengaluru and most other regional stations would be converted to relay stations. He says Prasar Bharati backed down and denied the existence of such a plan after protests from language activists.

Reduce

In Kerala, sources say, Prasar Bharati has abandoned plans to scale back operations due to stiff resistance. Kerala MPs protested against any plans to close AIR stations, except the one in Thiruvananthapuram. Vempati has denied there was any such move, but sources said the protests forced an overhaul.

In Tamil Nadu, which has 15 AIR stations of which five are relay stations and two are local radio stations, Prasar Bharati was working on a plan to convert the primary stations of Madurai, Coimbatore, Tiruchirappalli and Tirunelveli into relay stations, this which would mean they won’t generate original content for their local audience. While efforts to reach AIR officials in Tamil Nadu have been unsuccessful, sources said converting primary stations to relay stations would take away the independence of local stations. “All the stations will have the same content. It will not help. For example, agriculture related programs should be different for different regions. It cannot be the same for everyone, ”said a source.

In Kashmir, Radio Kashmir station was renamed AIR Srinagar after the removal of Section 370 in August 2019. In 1990, when militancy erupted in Kashmir, local Radio Kashmir employees managed to run the station despite threats. and the intimidation of the ultras. Radio Kashmir became an important medium during the flood of 2014, when all lines of communication were closed. It functioned as a bridge between the public and the administration.

According to Maqsood Ahmad, a senior presenter at the station, Radio Kashmir’s role in preserving art, culture and languages ​​is enormous. The station still broadcasts in the Balti, Sheena, Pahari, Gojri and Punjabi languages. However, he says there were over 50 program directors and advertisers in 1990, which has grown to seven now. Most of the senior staff have retired and no new hires are taking place, which affects the quality of the station’s programming.

(With contributions from Arjun Raghunath in Thiruvananthapuram, ETB Sivapriyan in Chennai and Zulfikar Majid in Srinagar)


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