Indias BJP Pushes to Remove TV Head


New Delhi, India -- The head of India's state
television company may be the next target of reforms by the nationalist Bharatiya Janata
Party, the country's newly installed ruling political party.

The BJP has introduced a bill into India's Parliament
that calls for the ouster of Surinder Singh Gill, CEO of state-owned TV company Prasar
Bharati Corp., formerly known as Doordarshan The move to boot Gill, 71, is seen by many in
the industry and by some politicos as a further step of the BJP's tightening grip on
India's media.

"The government should have given him a chance to
prove his mettle," said Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators Federation of
India. "The government is diverting attention from the main issues," she added,
referring in part to the long-delayed broadcasting bill that will overhaul media
regulations in the country.

Gill -- who was a secretary in the Information and
Broadcasting Ministry in the 1970s --only stepped into his post six months ago, when he
was installed by the former ruling party, the United Front. At the same time, Doordarshan
was given autonomy and its name was changed to PBC.

With an agenda of modernizing the monolithic TV company --
which boasts two broadcast channels, 16 satellite channels and 450 million viewers -- the
no-nonsense Gill admitted that many of his management decisions raised a hornet's

"Doordarshan had gained a very unsavory reputation for
corruption and nepotism. Staffers would moonlight for private networks, and arbitrary
decisions were the order of the day. All of that has been changed, and decision-making has
been made completely transparent," said Gill, who has retained legal counsel. "I
will go only if Parliament wants me to go, and not otherwise."

Information and Broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj
insisted that she has nothing personal against Gill. Rather, she objected to his age.

The original Prasar Bharati Act stated that nobody more
than 62 years old could be a member of PBC's board. The United Front, however,
amended the legislation, boosting the age limit to 75, and it subsequently installed Gill.
It had also done away with a parliamentary committee that would oversee the company.

Now, Gill's ouster is part of a larger plan by the BJP
to revive the original legislation. The age issue is considered simply a pretext to that
ultimate end -- a 22-member parliamentary committee would oversee PBC's board and
potentially provide the BJP with greater control over the company.

But success is not assured. Opposition parties have accused
the BJP of witch-hunting, and they are determined to stall the progress of the bill.

Ambika Soni, a spokeswoman for the Congress I political
party, expressed the opposition's viewpoint: "Frequent changes in the setup of
radio and TV raise serious questions about the autonomy of our institutions."