Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New I&B minister to focus on Commonwealth Games telecast

Terming the telecast of the 2010 Commonwealth Games one of the priority areas for her ministry, Ambika Soni, the new Information and Broadcasting (I&B) minister, today said she would review matters pertaining to public broadcaster Prasar Bharati’s functioning and the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) being heard by the Delhi High Court over the alleged financial irregularities in Prasar Bharati.

Prasar Bharati has to undertake the production and telecast of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in high definition format, considered at least three times costlier than the existing standard definition. However, due to legal hurdles and allegations of financial mismanagement within the Prasar Bharati board, no forward action in the matter has taken place since the past six months, senior government officials say.

“Commonwealth Games are important for us. I will be interacting with my officials on all important matters before the ministry. I have also called for the papers related to the functioning of Prasar Bharati and the PIL that is being heard in the court, among other things, for my understanding,” Soni said while on her first visit to the I&B ministry after getting the portfolio on Thursday evening.

Taking stock of her ministry and its officials on the first working day after being allocated the charge of a Cabinet minister at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), Ambika Soni said she would take all the stakeholders into confidence before taking decisions on issues facing the media industry.

“I am not taking the charge today. I am here to meet my officials and see the ministry. I will take charge on Monday,” Soni said.

However, on being asked to outline her priorities in the I&B ministry, she said Commonwealth Games and its telecast would be a key issue for her. “I will also be looking at content code among all other key issues before the ministry. I am being briefed by my Secretary and other senior officials and I will come to media on my priorities at a later date,” said Soni.

The Prasar Bharati board and its functioning has been under a cloud for a past few months after its ex-chairman Arun Bhatnagar, who resigned a few days back citing irregularity in the functioning of top management of Prasar Bharati, alleged financial irregularities within Prasar Bharati. A PIL has also been filed in the Delhi High Court.

Prasar Bharati being the host broadcasters for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, has to telecast the 14-day international tournament in high definition as mandated by the Commonwealth Games organising committee.

So far, the Prasar Bharati has not been able to take a decision on whether to outsource the entire coverage of the Commonwealth Games to a third-party through a tender process or to do it using the available resources of Doordarshan.

Soni was earlier the minister for Tourism and Culture in the 14th Lok Sabha. There are two Ministers of State in the ministry in Mohan Jatua and S Jagathrakshakan who, according to senior officials, will also take formal charge on June 1 along with Soni.

Soni is also expected to take up pending policy issues including policy on Headend-In-the-Sky (HITS), a move that will open doors for the digital delivery of cable channels across the country at one go using satellites.

Also, expansion and review of Conditional Access System (CAS) in rest of the country, expansion of private FM radio business are among the top priorities awaiting the attention of Soni, say senior officials of the I&B ministry.