Focus of govt is to communicate with people
How has your transformative journey been from a sportsperson to a politician?
It has been a wonderful journey. God has been kind to me, by giving me these varied experiences ranging from fighting terrorists in Kashmir and leading troops to representing India in the Olympics. I have in fact observed the Indian Army from the outside as well while I was competing, for about ten to twelve years as a sportsman. Travelling around the world made me realise how the entire world is a family. I see everything that comes to me as a challenge. Some people have this ingrained in their nature - to overcome challenges. Every new endeavour for me is like a challenging match and I love the thrill of competition. That is what has drawn me to all these sectors - military, sports, and now politics.
Did your military experience help you in your political career?
Undoubtedly, your environment shapes you and you carry ahead your experiences. So, I carry the will to fight and serve the nation. These are the kind of values that are ingrained in you while in the military. Promoting team spirit, bonding with people, and the ability to learn quickly are some of these lessons.
What is your vision for the Ministry?
A key focus area for the government is to improve communication with people in India. We have to enable the government to communicate better with people, which is happening with the outreach programmes of FM Radio and community radios. We are using technology and human resource to reach out to the people. Also, we recently launched Bharat 2016 Reference Annual books that give a complete picture of the country’s progress in various fields.
What have been your landmark achievements in the Ministry?
FMisation (entire country being covered by FM) has been one of our major achievements. FM Radio is a popular medium and we are focusing on FMisation throughout the entire country. Today the FM penetration in India is 45 percent. In another two to two-and-a-half years we will cover nearly 65 percent. Every city with one lakh population will now have three FM radio stations of their own. That will give a big push in this direction. We are also focusing on improving the Regional News Units (RNU) across India. We are also improving the RNUs, starting with Lucknow, Bangalore, and other cities. We have identified few of our RNUs and are focusing on making them better. Even Field Publicity is another thrust area for the Ministry.
How has the I&B Ministry been able to revamp the national broadcaster Doordarshan (DD)?
In the television segment, we have Doordarshan. In fact, we plan to make it even better by bringing in new technology and digitising studios. So the experience for the consumer is going to be much better. In fact, now we have DD news on a mobile phone application as well. So, you can listen to DD News while on the move.
One of the key sections for DD is entertainment and the largest outreach of any channel in this area is that of DD National. The glorious days at DD National were between 2003 and 2005 when the Mahabharata and other popular serials were aired. We will go back to making those slots available to private production houses. We plan to outsource our platform to the best producers. Discussions are in the final stages at Prasar Bharati.
Will there be a bidding process to select the producers for this segment on the channel?
The Prasar Bharati is working on the modalities. It has to be an open and transparent process of selection. These will be informative shows aired on prime time.
There has been a string of controversies attached to Board of Film Certification (CBFC). What are your views on these issues?
For several years, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has acted in a certain manner guided by its rules that were framed in 1952. Irrespective of who takes over as the CBFC chairman, cuts have always been there. It is not a question of which government is in power or who is the chairman. But for the first time, we have taken a historic decision signifying that we, as a government, are not interested in censoring films.
On January 1 this year, we announced a panel headed by Shyam Benegal and other eminent personalities, who will look into the overall functioning of the Censor Board. This is a historic step, because not only have we told them to change the rules but also the staff. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has constituted the committee to ensure holistic interpretation of the provisions of the Cinematograph Act and Rules. Apart from Benegal, the committee comprises actor Kamal Haasan, filmmakers Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Gautam Ghose, adman Piyush Pandey, film critic Bhawana Somaaya, and some officials.
What is the status of digitisation, and has the issue of installation of set top boxes been resolved?
In the direct-to-home (DTH) sphere, there are seven primary players. About 40 million people in India are on DTH and of this, approximately 29 million are on freedish (Public broadcaster Doordarshan's free direct-to-home (DTH) service - Freedish). The range of our DTH- free dish is the most expansive. The set top boxes had a deadline to be completely installed by March 21, 2015. In some cities, this hasn't happened. Some operators have gone to court and in fact, in a few states in Sikkim and Odisha, the deadline has been extended by 2-3 months. This is absolutely fine with us, till they eventually do complete the installation process. As it will eventually improve the quality of service to the consumer and also enhance the revenue collection by the government. So it is in both ways when you will have DAS (digital addressable system).
(Tania Ameer is Special Correspondent, Millennium Post)