Centre to merge Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV channels

The committee to plan the transition will be headed by a person from the Union government

TV Channel Merge

Image Courtesy: exchange4media.com

The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha channels may soon merge to become one new entity, The Wire reported. The merger announcement was made public by the Rajya Sabha secretary-general Desh Deepak Verma at the 141st meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in the Serbian capital of Belgrade on October 13.

An RSTV employee who did not wish to be named said that the merger process was being monitored directly by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which has formed a committee to ensure smooth transition of the process. Saying that the committee may be headed by a representative of the Union government, he said that the chairperson of Prasar Bharati, A. Surya Prakash and A.A. Rao, who is currently an additional secretary of the Rajya Sabha secretariat, will also be part of the committee.

The deadline for the merger has not been defined yet and no particular reasons for the merger have been specified though it is said that failing ratings of both the channels and a bid to cut expenses could be why the decision has been taken.

It was initially reported that both channels were to be taken off air and Doordarshan was to telecast the parliament’s coverage. But it looks like the PMO is set to launch a standalone channel called Sansad TV soon.

Started in 2006, Lok Sabha TV is the brainchild of former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and the first parliamentary channel of India. It is dedicated to the Lower House of the Parliament. Owned and operated by Lok Sabha Secretariat, LSTV has the mandate to telecast uninterrupted live proceedings of the Lok Sabha.

Rajya Sabha TV is owned and operated by the Upper House of the Indian Parliament. It not airs live proceedings of the Rajya Sabha, but also brings incisive analysis of parliamentary affairs. Then Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari got a parallel Rajya Sabha channel started in August 2011.

The Rajya Sabha TV headed by Hamid Ansari was not scheduled to be just another news channel. It was going to go a step further and involve people from villages and districts in the happenings of the House to try and bring them closer to parliament.

Changes in RS TV

The channel hired well-known editors and television anchors to run debates and news-based shows. It ran a television show Kitab, a talk show on books which ran for an hour and addressed only one book. RS TV’s Guftagoo too was the only uninterrupted personality-based chat show on Indian television.

The discussion based bilingual channel had expanded due to its selection of topics of contemporary and viewer interest, presentation, introduction of new windows, enhanced production value and promotion of content etc.

For the first time, in 2018, under the chairmanship of Venkaiah Naidu, in a departure from the usual state-run television channel, a 24-minute feature on ideologue and political thinker Veer Savarkar was featured on flagship programme ‘Vishesh’. It was the first time that a “right-wing” icon and proponent of “Hindutva” was featured on RSTV. Earlier personalities featured included Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh and Sardar Patel.

In 2017, Naidu had accused the RS TV of being ‘partisan’ when it blacked out BJP members’ speeches on the foreign policy debate. After the tenure of former VP Hamid Ansari, RS TV underwent a transition in its character. Often accused by the BJP of having a bias against the Right-wing ideology, some shows on India’s foreign policy, national security, business and media hosted by journalists seen to be unfavourable to the ruling party have already been discontinued.

Shows by guest hosts were also discontinued.

Venkaiah Naidu had earlier called for a probe over the expenditure incurred by Rajya Sabha TV during Ansari’s tenure. He had alleged that RSTV had spent Rs. 1,700 crores since its inception till March 2017.

However, an RTI query substantiated that the actual expenditure was way lower at about Rs. 345.6 crore.

The Impact

While the merger sounds ambitious, employees feel it could lead to big lay-offs. “LSTV employees’ contracts end in December, so they do not know yet whether they will be able to continue there or not,” said an employee of RSTV. He said that at Diwali this year, many of the employees in LSTV had received their due salary after a delay of four months.

He also said that having a committee under a person who is on the payroll of the Union government can compromise the autonomy of both channels.

It is also likely that the committee which will function under a person of the Union government will eventually compromise the autonomy of both the channels.


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