With any eye to boost public service broadcasting — and also counter cross-border propaganda in the process — the Indian government on Wednesday cleared a MIB-backed proposal to invest Rs. 2,539.61 crore by 2025-26 for infrastructure development of Prasar Bharati, owners of All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan (DD).
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting proposal related to central or federal sector scheme, ‘Broadcasting Infrastructure and Network Development’ (BIND), which is the vehicle for providing financial support to pubcaster Prasar Bharati for expenses related to expansion and upgradation of its broadcasting infrastructure, content development and civil work related to the organization.
The scheme also envisages free distribution of over 8 lakh (800,000) DD FreeDish boxes to people living in remote, tribal, border and left wing extremism affected areas.
The decisions on Prasar Bharati investments, along with such proposals for other industries, were greenlit by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur told reporters on Wednesday.
According to an official government statement, the BIND scheme will enable the public broadcaster to undertake major upgradation of its facilities with better infrastructure, which will widen its reach and provide high quality content to the viewers.
Another priority area of the scheme is the development of high-quality content for both domestic and international audiences and ensuring availability of diverse content to the viewers by upgradation of capacity of the pubcaster’s free-to-air DTH platform FreeDish so it can accommodate more TV channels.
For limited shelf space presently on FreeDish, private sector TV channels, including the news genre, aggressively bid for slots in the annual auction that are held.
To give a perspective to the FreeDish issue, the then CEO of Prasar Bharati Shashi Vempati in an interview to The Hindu newspaper in April 2022 had said that factors for the strong revenue growth of Prasar Bharati included money coming from auctioning of slots to private TV channels who bid aggressively because the platform’s reach is big, especially in rural India.
“It is mainly due to the growth in DD FreeDish revenue and a strong post-COVID-19 recovery in radio advertising revenues,” Vempati told the newspaper when asked what were the reasons for Prasar Bharati, which owns DD and All India Radio, posting strong revenue growth.
Coming back to Wednesday’s investment clearance related to Prasar Bharati, the official statement highlighted purchase of OB vans and digital upgradation of DD and AIR studios to make them HD ready will also be done as part of the BIND project.
At present, Doordarshan operates 36 TV channels, including 28 regional, while All India Radio operates more than 500 broadcasting centres. The scheme will increase coverage of AIR FM transmitters in the country to 66 percent by geographical area and 80 percent by population, up from 59 percent and 68 percent, respectively.
Content generation and innovation for AIR and DD has the potential of indirect employment of persons with varied experience of different media fields, the statement added, stressing modernization of the pubcaster, including its infrastructure, is a continuous process.