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All India Radio
National Exclusive

Cost cutting costs AIR its National Channel and five training academies!

PenNews Exclusive

New Delhi, Jan 11: Late last month the Prasar Bharati, the Broadcasting Corporation of India asked All India Radio [AIR] to shut down its National Channel and five regional training centers. The reasons given by the Prasar Bharati were cost cutting and rationalization. It was after much research and deliberations that AIR on May 18, 1988 [source: AIR’s official web site] launched its National Channel adding a new dimension to a much talked about three tier broadcasting system. The official web site even today states that AIR has a three-tier system of broadcasting. The National Channel along with local and regional channels had completed the three tier system. Till then all national programmes including major news bulletins in English and Hindi were originated in Delhi and were relayed by stations from across the AIR network. The channel came on the air at 6.50 PM and closed down after 12 hours, the next day morning.

The rationale behind starting a National channel was for a channel with a national character that would look at programming from an all India perspective unlike the local channels [not to be confused with concept of Local Radio, popularized in Britain and briefly experimented by AIR later] which catered to the specific needs to its audience in the coverage areas and the regional channels, mostly in state capitals, covering the entire state. While programme production was confined to the geographical area of local and regional stations the National channel had the whole country in its purview. For example the National Channel could undertake production of programmes from any part of the country like say a documentary on Light Houses which dot our vast coastline or on major trains in the country. Various National Programmes of Music, Talks, Drama, Features etc. were also broadcast from this channel along with other stations relaying them from the Delhi station. Hourly news bulletins introduced in 1985 were also part of the schedule throughout the night. Till then AIR stations closed down before midnight.

With a megawatt transmitter in Nagpur for terrestrial coverage there were complaints about reception, but from the beginning the programmes were of a good standard and people working in night shifts, students and even long distance truck drivers tuned into the programmes in Hindi, English and Urdu. Even while closing down the channel, the authorities lauded the channel for its vast repository of programmes, which now would be sent to the archives and digitization. With lack of interest on the part of Prasar Bharati to continue the service on account of ‘cost cutting’, a truly national broadcasting asset has been closed down. The present and past staff have expressed their dissatisfaction, but they know that their complaints would fall on deaf years.

Along with the National Channel, Prasar Bharati has also closed down five regional training centres of AIR, called Regional Academies of Broadcasting and Multi media located in Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Shillong and Thiruvananthapuram. As a result Prasar Bharati is now left with the National Academy of Broadcasting and Multi media in Kingsway Camp in Delhi to provide induction, advanced and refresher training programmes to broadcasters, engineers and the support staff. Here again it is disturbing that training, one of the most important components in broadcasting has been severely affected. All progressive looking professional organizations consider training as an essential input in human resources development. The pioneers in Indian broadcasting had realized this and started its first Staff Training School, later called Staff Training Institute in March,1948. Till then all training was on the job. Seventy years later we find the five regional training centers being closed down presumably as part of cost cutting. Cost of training in any skill oriented professional organization ought to be considered an investment and not exactly a wasteful expenditure.

The regional training centres of AIR were started as the Institute in Delhi was found to be grossly inadequate. Further there were regional considerations and availability of resource persons familiar with the socio-cultural milieu of the region while launching them. The question is how training requirements will be met with closing down of the regional training centers. They can redeploy the staff and utilize whatever equipment the five centers may have. But many senior and former broadcasters feel that, a government which hyped skill development when it came to power in 2014 has sort of killing skill development in broadcasting.