One of the first things that Shashi Shekhar Vempati did as soon as he took charge of India's national broadcaster Prasar Bharati that runs both Doordarshan and All India Radio last week was to immediately ask for the removal of fancy coffee mugs his predecessors had left in the place. The office now sports bright red, “I love DD“ mugs that capture the attention of visitors.
“If you don't take pride over your national broadcaster, who will? said Vempati, an IITian. asked, stressing on the need for both DD and All India Radio to be shackled out from the legacy of being clumsily-run government organisations and made to work like modern corporates. ““That is my immediate priority . We have to crack the relevant for public interest and how do we make it interesting. One of the good programmes was Satyamevajayate. Similarly there could be talk shows, which are popular in the West which we will try to bring to DD.The topics are not necessarily screaming debate kinds but engaging at the same time.“
Vempatti's appointment is in line with the PM Narendra Modi's attempt to appoint young technocrats and professionals in important positions.There have been such appointments made recently in NITI Aayog and finance ministry too. Vempati is also the first non-Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer to head the public broadcaster after it fell vacant last year when Jawahar Sircar put in his papers, four months before his retirement, after disagreements with the Centre on a number of issues.
Prasar Bharati has several members on its board who are seen as affiliated to the right-wing ideology and some sections believe Vempati's appointment was also in line with that.
Vempati has been a board member since February last year. Prior to that, he headed Niti Central for three years as its CEO, which is a right-wing news portal that played an important role in projecting Narendra Modi as the PM in 2014. Apart from this, Vempati has experience as a product manager at Infosys for more than 10 years and holds a degree from IIT Bombay .
“See my resume speaks for itself,“ said Vempati. “My first job was in 1995. My boss had said he hadn't asked for me. There was one email id for the entire office. My entire batch of IITians were abroad then and I, even as a trainee, would receive 50 mails a day . My bosses were intrigued then. It was after that I set up the website and internet for the company . My association with the digital world is much older than Niti Central or working for Modi. My credentials speak for themselves,“ he added. Vempati also has strong views on the issue of freedom of expression going around in the country . “It is just amazing that the number of debates around freedom of expression that we have is high but does anyone go to jail?
No, this shows we have a very vibrant democracy . Compare it with Turkey .There are crackdowns on university professors, arrests of journalists.There is nothing like that happening here. What is happening here is that there is this schizophrenia fed by social media and some media outlets. It is all in this city. You go to Bengaluru or Hyderabad people are just going their jobs and work. The elite is often misled into believing that its personal liberties are at stake.“
“Also, the elites who monopolised the narratives for years are feeling left out.It is essentially a debate of the elite.The BARC data show the fight among all English news channels is for such a miniscule portion of the audience the mindshare of the elite,“ he added.
Vempati also said the process of putting together a global channel for the country was in the cards. “We will start with digital. We have come out with a report that has already been submitted to the ministry .“
The Sam Pitroda committee that studied and recommended big changes to public broadcasting during the UPA regime will also reviewed, he added. “But it is important to know that times have changed. We have to move to the digital. This is the largest media organisation in the world and if anything can show how a 21st century broadcaster works, it has to be this. The PM talks about a new India.My term also overlaps with 2022. We will come up with a revamp plan soon.“ – TOI