By Shreyan Acharya,Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Delhi.

“All Censorships exists to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”

  • George Bernard Shaw

The year 1997 was a landmark year, which saw far reaching measures to free the broadcast media from the shackles of Government control 50years after independence. It was the first instance of a Government, voluntarily bringing legislation to free media from its control which may set in motion a chain of events in the country ringing in revolutionary changes in the field.

Even the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru preferred an independent authority with required autonomy for effectively utilizing the powerful broadcasting media. Speaking on the issue at Constituent Assembly, “my own view of the set up for the broadcasting is that we should approximate, as far as possible, to the British model, the BBC, that is to say, it would be better if we had a semi-course, with the policy controlled by the Government, otherwise not conducted as a Government department.”

Our country had seen a very inhibited misuse of the media in the past. It was also used for narrow partisan purposes. The electronic media under the control of the Government was just trumpeting the State programmes while covering up any opposite viewpoint totally and absolutely. That also affected the credibility of the Government controlled media from which the idea of autonomy stemmed. For over three decades, beginning with a Chanda Committee report in 1966 and continuing through the reports of the Verghese Committee in 1978 and the Joshi Committee in 1985- expert committees set up by the government made a case for organizational restructuring of broadcasting, so as to give it greater autonomy. As Chanda Committee observed that “ it is not possible in the Indian context for a creative medium like broadcasting to flourish under a regimen(sic) of departmental rules and regulations. It is only by an institutional change that All India Radio can be liberated from the present rigid financial and administrative procedures of government.” The Hon’ Supreme Court of India along with many High Courts have expressed their concern and emphasized on greater autonomy so that freedom can be prevailed.

The Hon’ Supreme Court of India in Union of India v Cricket Associations of Bengal observed that “airwaves are public property and a monopoly over broadcasting whether by the government or anybody else is inconsistent with the free speech right of the citizens and directed the government to take immediate steps to establish an independent autonomous public authority representative of all sections and interest in the society to control and regulate the use of airwaves.”

The Calcutta High Court in Union of India v People’s Union for Civil Liberties observed that “the Central Government should take appropriate steps to give shape to the objectives and ideals of the Prasar Bharti Act. Government is at liberty to pass fresh legislation if it deems fit. The court further observed that broadcasting media should be under the control of the public as distinct from the government. It should be operated by a public statutory corporation or corporations, as the case may be, who’s constitution and composition must be such as to ensure its/their impartiality in political, economic and social matters.”

After taking into consideration and deliberating on several issues, the Government of India unanimously passed the legislation know as the Prasar Bharti Act. The objectives of the bill were to confer autonomy on Akashwani and Doordarshan, thereby ensuring that they function in a fair, objective and creative manner. The prima facie objective was to hold both the unity and integrity of the country. The constitution has conferred various values and the Act focused on upholding the democratic and social values enshrined in the Constitution of India. Prasar Bharti is the name given to the Broadcasting Corporation of India, which is India’s largest public broadcaster. It is an autonomous body set up by an Act of Parliament and comprises of Doordarshan television network and the All India Radio(AIR) which were earlier media units of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. Prasar Bharti was established on November 23, 1997 following a demand y which the government owned broadcasters in India were to be given more autonomy like those in many other countries. The Parliament of India passed an Act to grant this autonomy in 1990, but it was not enacted until September 15, 1997. The Act received the assent of the President of India on September 12, 1997. After bein unanimously passed by the Parliament, it was finally implemented in September 1997. By Prasar Bharti Act, all the property, debts, liabilities, payments of money due, all suits and legal proceedings involving Akashwani(AIR) and Doordarshan were transferred to Prasar Bharti.

The main purpose was to provide some sort of autonomy and media freedom and so far as today, it seems to be going in the right direction.