Doordarshan Srinagar was once known for amusing the audiences with its classy content and the variety of programs it produced. But it has lost its old glory and has, in fact, become synonymous with corruption. But what really ails the centre, BILAL HANDOO finds out.
The unceremonious exit of Srinagar Doordarshan’s director, Shami Shair has once again brought the malaise feeding on the once glorious television centre to the forefront. Shair was shown the door after she was found ‘patronizing’ a woman anchoring “Good Morning J&K”, even after she was caught in an objectionable position with a former National Conference legislator.
Now, sources say Shair is being investigated by the CBI for her alleged role in five corruption cases within Doordarshan (DD) Srinagar. Insiders says she also played an instrumental role in granting propaganda programs to her relatives including her niece, Naila Neelofar, who was recently suspended from BOSE services.
This is, however, not something new to the centre which has been embroiled in corruption scams in the past. Despite being highly funded, the centre has a liability of Rs 70 crores as overspending, sources said, which is being claimed by a coterie of affluent producers who are known to have personal relations with formers heads of the centre.
Only last year, a police investigation had revealed the centre had overspent Rs 42 crores on its programs when it was headed by the then director, Rafiq Masoodi. “During investigations, it was revealed that just four officials including Masoodi had created a huge liability of Rs 27 crore from May to July last year by clandestinely approving in-house programs produced by the blue-eyed boys and their relatives.”
Soon after Masoodi was shown the door and transferred to DD headquarters in Delhi on the charges of corruption, three of his ‘loyal men’ working as producers began secretly approving a number of proposals for in-house programs. “All these proposals were channelized through three ‘executive producers,’ who were actually private producers and were allegedly favored on advance payment of bribe. Their family members, relatives, friends and others, including domestic helps and drivers, were being shown as the ‘facility providers’ and paid huge amounts of money,” a source said.
While many officials serving DD Srinagar are on the radar of CBI and a number of them are also facing departmental inquests source said these officials involved staff members as their personal assistants who usually struck deals with private producers. “40% of the budget allocated for any program is paid back to the officials as bribe,” a senior official at DD Srinagar said.
The recent scam to hit the centre which led to the exit of Shair has only exposed the rot. “The morning show conducted by the female anchor was receiving undue favors from Shair. While anchors are paid Rs 1000 per show, she was getting Rs 1500, plus pick-and-drop cab facility as if she were a VIP,” a producer said on condition of anonymity.
Doordarshan has a distinction of having the largest television terrestrial network in the world with a better infrastructure than the global television giants like BBC. It was the third television network set up in India in 1973 after Delhi and Mumbai. While the programs produced by DD centers at Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkatta and Lucknow are known for their quality, the programs of DD Srinagar are mostly banal. “It is not even withstanding competition posed by local TV channels which are merely amateurs in TV production. We would have stopped making programs for DD Srinagar long back if we had any alternative medium to run our programs,” a private producer said.
Nearly 40 years after its inception, DD Srinagar has failed to make any mark on the national platform. Experts believe the lack of content writers has led to deterioration in production, “A dearth of manpower in technical and creative departments and reluctance to evolve with time has stalled progress,” says CEO, Associate Media, Tariq Bhat.
“Production stalwarts like Farooq Nazki, Shabir Mujahid, Bashir Badgami, Siraj Qureshi, Mir Mushtaq, Zahid Manzoor and Zafar Ahmad along with few prominent Kashmiri Pandits played great role in elevating the status of Srinagar centre. In fact, the period from 1978 to 1988 was the golden period in Srinagar Kendra’s history,” says a producer of Youth Forum, Manzoor Khan. “People had a good understanding of the medium which is unfortunately lacking now,” says Shabir Mujahid a former producer with DD Srinagar and current director of Jammu Doordarshan.
As violence erupted in Kashmir in early 90’s, Srinagar Doordarshan was reduced to a propaganda platform. “Huge funds were pumped to maintain the ‘nationalistic’ character of the centre and programs were commissioned to non-locals who were mostly from non-media backgrounds. Thus the centre fell into the hands of amateur and unskilled human resource which gradually led to a decline in production standards,” a producer says.
FROZEN RECRUITMENTS, GROWING SCANDALS
Non-recruitment of new staff is another serious issue. Over the last 25 years, no recruitment has been done with the officials citing ‘overstaffing’ as the reason to put a freeze on hiring fresh talent. Interestingly, for a three-hour service
from 1989 to 1990, 27 producers and 30 production assistants were working at Srinagar Doordarshan. Now, when the centre is working on a 24×7 basis, there are only 10 producers with no production assistants. Out of them, five will retire by 2013. “After half of the producers will retire, they will be engaged on contractual basis. We can’t throw open the centre for less experienced producers,” says a senior official. “Some producers working for the centre are actually shopkeepers. Qualified communication graduates should be given priority in order to raise the bar of this centre,” says Shabir Mujahid, a former producer.
While the former director of Doordarshan Srinagar, Rafiq Masoodi, was allegedly found involved in two software scandals investigated by the CBI in 2009 and 2010, the rot doesn’t end there. Riyaz Gilani, a private producer whose brother is a senior police official and a close associate of Masoodi, is another tainted producer who managed to make the most out of the rot. While CBI was investigating Rs 5 Crore ‘Morning Show Scandal,’ Masoodi was clandestinely allotting hundreds of music and fiction programs to Gilani but he was never chargesheeted.
DD KASHIR ROT
Kashir Channel was launched amid much fanfare in 2000 but it has failed to restore the lost glory of DD Srinagar. DD Kashir was part of Rs 450 crore Delhi sponsored package for strengthening Doordarshan and All India Radio capabilities in Jammu and Kashmir. The channel was launched on January 26, 2000 on a trial basis and was formally launched on June 9, 2000 in Srinagar.
“The channel was meant for Jammu and Kashmir but its role as a media outlet could not be appropriated and the channel has become wastage of public funds. The human resource engaged for producing programs was alien to Kashmir. Production stalwarts of J&K were never taken on board in decision making,” said a DD official. Although the channel was launched to promote local culture and ethos, it was officially meant to combat the propaganda by Pakistan against India through its television and radio networks.
In 2006, when the then Information and Broadcasting minister, Dasmunshi announced that the administration of ‘Kashir’ channel would be shifted to Srinagar, the decision was welcomed with jubilation by the fraternity in Kashmir. “Up to 75 percent programs were commissioned to local producers while the remaining 25 percent were allotted to migrants and others. To the pleasure of many, a new category ‘F’ was introduced to promote the young local talent who had just passed out of universities and were passionate to produce programs,” a senior official said.
This, however, failed to make any difference to the banality dished out by DD Srinagar to its viewers. “Though a 24 hours channel, DD Kashmir has a total program length of eight hours every day. Same programs are repeated twice in the other 14 hours. More than 90 per cent of these programs in Kashmiri serve absolutely no purpose due to demographic and other cultural barriers,” the official said.
The news bulletin telecast from the centre is a perfect example of how badly the organization is being run. “Lack of professional newscasters and improper presentation leaves the viewers disinterested. Besides, a majority in the valley sees the bulletin as the propaganda of the government. Soon after the killing of DD director Lassa Koul, the news centre was shifted to Jammu which added to the fears of the local population,” the official added
Sources said the news editors in Srinagar for DD Kashir bulletin are often brought from New Delhi on deputation basis. “Over the years, no serious attempt has been made to overhaul the presentation and enhance the content of news telecast to the viewers. Some interviews were conducted last year to attract local English news readers but no selection has been made till date. When matter was brought to the CEO of Prasar Bharati, he promised action. No action has been taken,” a media student, who applied for the post, said.
Prominent television artist and film producer, Zamir Ashai said, “During the worst periods of violence, when nobody would even dare to knock the doors of DD Srinagar, it was the local artists and freelance producers who kept the transmission going. Today, we are not being even allowed to enter the premises,” he said.
When contacted, Ashok Jailkhani, additional director general of Doordarshan, New Delhi, said the allegations were false and motivated. “The present management at the Doordarshan Srinagar Kendra is trying to bring in discipline and accountability and that seems to have irritated some people who want to bend the management for their financial benefits,” he said.
It will take some hard decisions to restore the lost glory of DD Srinagar but the larger question is; who will bell the cat?
DD-kashir exposed..they are neva gonna play this flash on their newshour..