The nation observed Janta Curfew on March 22 on PM Modi’s appeal. A day later, the AIR Kendras throughout the country either shut down or curtailed operations.
While the Regional News Units (RNUs) stopped broadcast, the flagship channels such as FM Gold, Vividh Bharti and Rainbow curtailed their programmes.
Most of the radio jockey (RJ)-based entertainment programmes such as songs on demand were done away with.
For most part of the day and night, Gold, Vividh Bharti and Rainbow aired coronavirus-related programmes and educational shows. They increased the duration of two major news bulletins and coverage of COVID-19.
After five days of Akashvani into the withdrawal mode, Prakash Javadekar learnt about the development. He called up the top AIR officials and admonished them for the development.
The Times of India is in receipt of an audio clip in which Javadekar is heard expressing his displeasure and asking the officials to normalise operations.
He said, “First of all, I could not understand how the Akashvani Kendras shut down. By which order did they shut down? Or, which order did you misinterpret? On the contrary, our purpose is to work 24 hours during this period of crisis.”
Prakash Javadekar further said, “Akashvani is meant for airing local content, information, discussions and interviews of local people. You have defeated the very purpose of All India Radio.”
He asked the officials to resume operations forthwith and sought reports from them.
Javadekar said, “Your own popular and old programmes besides local information on coronavirus and social distancing in layman’s language should be aired. Interviews of local officials and police personnel who are working in the field to inspire confidence. These measures are necessary because the country is standing with Prime Minister (Narendra Modi). The lockdown of the whole country on one appeal is not a common thing. But I was shocked that Akashvani Kendras were shut down and everyone sat in their homes. You all were not told to sit at home. On the contrary, you all were asked to work. Moreover, the entertainment programmes such as songs on demand should be resumed. All the FM stations should be popularised.”
He said he had convened a meeting to chalk out a plan for the FM stations. “But what purpose would be served if you shut down the Akashvani kendras? It is the job of the local stations to provide local content. Therefore, I am absolutely displeased over what has happened.”
Egging on the officials to pull up their socks, he said only five days were lost and there were still 15 days to make the most of the situation. “Now you start working right away from today. We can utilise the next 15 days in performing our role and in doing what is expected of us.”
Javadekar also touched upon the repeat telecast of old serials such as Ramayan, Mahabharat and Byomkesh by Doordarshan (DD) Kendras. “We have started Ramayan, Mahabharat, Byomkesh and a couple of other good programmes which have recall value and which were extremely popular among the masses. That (decision) is fetching us new viewers.”
While the RNUs, Vividh Bharti and Rainbow have almost normalised their operations, FM Gold and some other channels are yet to resume old format.
RJs, professionals and comperes have expressed their concern over it. In a tweet, AIR Broadcasting Professionals’ Association said, “@prakashJavdekar Sir, despite your instructions, RJs of @Akashvani are still waiting to go on-air and serve the nation. Please instruct AIR officials again to resume broadcast of FM Gold and other channels as per their original formats.”
@prakashJavdekar Sir, despite ur instructions, RJs of @Akashvani r still waiting to go on-air & serve the nation. P… https://t.co/vN0ggPVXXB
— AIRBPA – An Association of A.I.R. Broadcasters (@AIRBPA) 1585644069000
AIR Announcers and Comperes Union wrote to PM Modi. “@narendramodi Respected sir. You praised RJs/announcers of AIR for their role in disseminating awareness about COVID-19 outbreak. But ironically, RJs and announcers of @Akashvani have been kept off-air due to lock-down! They must be allowed to do their job.”
@narendramodi Respected sir you praised RJs/Announcers of AIR for their role in disseminating awareness of the COVI… https://t.co/VxvFlWtP2P
— AIRCACU (@aircacu) 1585401181000
They have also sought necessary instructions to revive Hindi, English, Urdu, Nepali and Chinese services of AIR’s External Services Division immediately.