Shashi Shekhar Vempati, former CEO of Niti Digital, was recently named the chief executive officer (CEO) of Prasar Bharati. Prasar Bharati is the public broadcaster of India that runs Doordarshan (DD) television and All India Radio.It will be the first time that a non-Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer has been chosen to head the public broadcaster (interim CEO was also non-IAS). A graduate of IIT Mumbai, Vempati worked for several years with Infosys as a technology architect leading large scale IT transformation projects. A celebrated name in the blogosphere, he has written copiously in the intersection of politics, policy and technology.Even as he prepares to take full charge in his new role, the soft-spoken 44-year-old, in a wide ranging interview to Swarajya, shared his vision for the public broadcaster, on how he plans to navigate through the digital disruption, on reconnecting with the younger demographics and host of other issues.1. A decade back, the case for public broadcasters was quite strong as they were certainly addressing a market failure i.e lack of information access to a considerable section of the population. With the proliferation of private-run channels and their near universal reach, do you think a business case exists for continued funding of broadcasters?I think it would be myopic to look at the role of the public broadcaster narrowly from a market standpoint in a country like India given our socio-economic diversity and complexity. As an open and vibrant democracy, we are blessed with a diverse choice of media both in terms of genres and languages.
But not all of the private broadcast media reaches every corner of India both along our frontiers and within our hinterland. From putting the Indian national perspective across our frontiers to winning hearts and minds of every Indian deep inside our hinterland the public broadcaster has an important role.There can be an open debate on how a public broadcaster ought to be funded. The Sam Pitroda Committee Report alludes to this as well with some suggestions on funding. While the private media has an important role to play in giving our citizens choice in a competitive marketplace, the public broadcaster has a unique role in being the voice of public interest and national interest. I see continued need for that role. 2. As someone who has been an astute commentator and in fact a pioneering figure in the world of digital media landscape in India, how do you think the public broadcasters can cope with the massive digital disruption that has structurally altered the relevance of conventional broadcast media? Public broadcasters the world over have shown amazing ability to reinvent themselves for the digital era. By many digital metrics, the BBC is ranked top among digital news platforms worldwide. NPR (National Public Radio) in the USA has made a mark with an innovative mobile app to create a personalised listening experience. We need to do the same in India by digitally transforming our media platforms Doordarshan and All India Radio. We have a unique challenge in India due to our linguistic diversity. This is a digital opportunity and an area of strength given our ability to touch the lives of all Indians in their native languages across our network of platforms, channels, stations. The future is digital and mobile, we will have to innovate to engage with all of India by adapting digital broadcast technologies and digital internet applications to the Indian context. 3. We hear that a digital news platform is being conceptualisated by Prasar Bharati that will seek to advance an India centric narrative. Why do you think that the otherwise vibrant private sector media has been thus far been incapable of building a global media platform. And why do you think that Prasar Bharati may be capable of pulling this off? (Disclosure - Swarajya's editorial director R Jagannathan was invited to provide inputs for the plan) As the world's only billion people democracy, we have a responsibility to the planet to have a strong global voice that reflects Indian ethos, Indian values and echoes the aspirations of a billion people. The world deserves to be told the India story, the India experience - a unique and unprecedented moment in modern History of a billion people democracy at work, going strong and soon to touch the 75-year milestone in 2022.The world also needs to hear the India perspective on global events, shifts in geo-politics and on the critical issues concerning our planet. So we have to build a strong global platform and Prasar Bharati will step up to address that challenge and make it happen. I would not like to delve into why it has not happened so far and rather focus on how it can be done. We have made a beginning by conceptualising the platform. The report has been submitted to the Hon'ble Prime Minister and the Hon'ble Minister of Information and Broadcasting. Soon we will give it a concrete shape and take it further. 4. Public broadcasters like say ABC have a clear defined mandate to advance Australian values and culture. In a country like India, where ideological contestation over the nationhood values is still unsettled, how would we see Prasar Bharathi advancing a cultural agenda without getting mired in controversies? I think it is a mistake to think that the public broadcaster in India has not reflected our values and culture. From a televised retelling of our epics Mahabharata and Ramayana to a recounting of our history and rich tradition of strategic thinking through Chanakya the public broadcaster has been at the forefront of celebrating our culture and values. All India Radio continues to play a crucial role in the preservation of classical music across its network of stations in India.