Strike threatens to black out Doordarshan

Strike threatens to black out Doordarshan

New Delhi: Workers of state-run broadcaster Prasar Bharati plan to go on strike on Tuesday morning, threatening to black out about 21 Doordarshan channels and 12 Akashvani (All India Radio) stations for two days.

Doordarshan said it is trying to ensure there will be no disruption.

“We are making emergency arrangements to show pre-recorded content," said Aruna Sharma, director general of Doordarshan. “As far as news is concerned, we have employees on contract basis and we will ensure to the best of our ability that audiences are given fresh news."

The 48-hour strike, seeking changes in the statute and the timely payment of wages, has been called by the National Federation of Akashvani and Doordarshan Employees (NFADE), an umbrella organization of 21 service associations with a total of 38,000 employees in various disciplines of Akashvani and Doordarshan working in 1,800 stations spread all over India.

The strike will begin at 9 am, said Anil Kumar S., chairman of NFADE.

“Our strike also includes employees from the television control rooms, making it difficult for even pre-recorded content to be shown or heard on television and radio. It will be a complete blackout in that sense," he said.

“If we are successful, it’s for the first time that such a situation would have occurred," said Kulbhushan Bhatia, secretary general, NFADE.

The workers want the Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India) Act 1990 revoked.

“Doordarshan and AIR should be a part of the I&B (information and broadcasting) ministry, without existing under Prasar Bharati as it does now," said Kumar said. This would revert the two organisations to their original status in 1997, when Prasar Bharati was set up as an autonomous corporation to run the broadcasters and keep them at arms length from the government.

“We feel that Prasar Bharati as a national broadcasting body has failed to deliver any results. The employees are never paid on time, our requests to procure high definition (HD) television equipment for the Commonwealth Games went unnoticed and the overall infrastructure—and our morale—is crumbling," Kumar said.

A highly placed executive at Prasar Bharati said the demand can’t be met.

“The Prasar Bharati Act 1990 was passed by the Parliament and even NFADE knows that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the management of Prasar Bharati to revoke or repeal the Act," he said. He refused to be identified as he is directly involved with the Prasar Bharati management and not authorized to speak with the media.

While Prasar Bharati faces financial constraints, the official denied it had made compromises on maintenance and salary issues.

The I&B ministry funds half its Rs3,000 crore operational expenditure, while the rest of the money has to be generated by the state broadcaster itself. Prasar Bharati generates about Rs800-900 crore, resulting in a deficit of Rs600-700 crore.

Mrinal Pande, chairperson, Prasar Bharati board, refused to comment on the NFADE strike.

“This is an executive issue, needed to be resolved by the CEO of Prasar Bharati and other members of the autonomous corporation. The Prasar Bharati board can have no role in the matter until the matter is informed to it," she said.

Besides financial issues, NFADE is also critical of Doordarshan and the Prasar Bharati top management for disregarding its demands in 2009 to purchase HD television equipment and letting employees of Doordarshan manage the Commonwealth Games broadcast independently.

Doordarshan chief Sharma countered that select employees had been trained by SIS Live, the UK-based broadcasting company, for CWG coverage.