Kerala: What is Happening to Ananthapuri FM?
Image Courtesy: MediaPost
Thiruvananthapuram: “Listening to FM is entertaining and informative. Ananthapuri FM used to stand out among the rest with no compromise on its standards” - says Celin KV, a secondary school teacher from Thiruvananthapuram. The FM channel from Akashvani, operating on the frequency of 101.9 Hz, possesses an intrinsic bond with the music lovers in Thiruvananthapuram. The name Ananthapuri itself is synonymous with the capital city of Kerala. This is why Prasar Bharati’s recent attempts to trifle with the name and content of the FM channel received staunch opposition from listeners and cultural activists in Thiruvananthapuram. Popular segments in Malayalam which had much following have been cut off, to replace them with Hindi programs produced from Delhi. Many raise the opinion that cultural implications of the move are against the very idea of a national broadcaster established to celebrate diversity. In the meantime, inside sources from Akashvani Thiruvananthapuram point to structural issues within, as the root cause of new reforms.
The two-minute news bulletins aired by Ananthapuri FM every hour in between other music programs have been its unique attraction. “We get to know affairs of the day in quick headlines, in between music programs. I listen to Ananthapuri FM while doing my household works and during our intervals at work under employment guarantee scheme”, says Seetha, a homemaker from the rural side of Thiruvananthapuram who also goes to work under the MNREG scheme. Seetha who has a particular liking for old Malayalam songs tunes into other FM channels whenever Ananthapuri airs programs in Hindi. Celin, the secondary school Malayalam teacher also gives full marks to the Malayalam programs in Ananthapuri FM. She remembers those segments in which notable writers, artists, and other cultural figures come as guests. When private FM channels only had ‘celebrities’ as guests, Ananthapuri always had 'notable personalities', she recollects, although she hasn’t been following Ananthapuri for a while now. Ananthapuri used to have particular time slots for Hindi programs, which was acceptable considering the following for Hindi music, especially Ghazals, and also because there are non-Keralites who live in the state’s capital. But a major transition to Hindi during the prime hours would repulse the local listeners, Celin says.
PUBLIC OPINION AGAINST NEW CHANGES
K Jayakumar, former Chief Secretary of Kerala and the founding Vice-Chancellor of Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University was among those who called for public action on the issue. Jayakumar who is also known for his literary works, including many popular songs he penned for over 100 Malayalam films, wrote an article in Kerala Kaumudi Malayalam daily on 9 February, questioning the ‘monotonous and unattractive’ changes in Ananthapuri FM. The article terms the new reforms as part of a ‘centralised policy shift’ and asserts the right of the listeners to know the grounds on which they were being imposed. The most peculiar feature(of Ananthapuri FM) was the emphasis on the use of language. Ananthapuri unlike many other FM Channels followed Akashvani’s path in the legitimate use of the Malayalam language. But, a major share of the programs are in Hindi now, wrote Jayakumar. The article ignited public discourse on the issue and evoked responses from various corners.
In a response to the submission made by VK Prasanth MLA, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the changes being introduced were part of efforts to create a homogenised system by destroying the linguistic and cultural plurality. The move contradicts AIR’s motto of ‘Bahujan Hitaya Bahujan Sukhaya’(welfare of the masses happiness of the masses). Thiruvananthapuram Corporation has also passed a resolution against the move, terming it ‘a move against diversity and an assault on federalism'.
ACUTE STAFF SHORTAGE ALLEGED
An employee of AIR Thiruvananthapuram who spoke to NewsClick over the issue pointed to the acute staff shortage in content making. The new changes are being imposed from the top to overcome this shortage of human resources, particularly on the content side. There are three FM stations of Akashvani operating in the state from Kozhikode, Kochi, and Thiruvananthapuram. The aim was to unify these three stations under the name ‘Vividh Bharati Malayalam’, so that the same programs can be broadcasted from all the three stations, without immediate recruitment on the content side. The proposed reforms were part of an attempt from the top-level officials to sweep the crisis of staff shortage under the carpet, the source told NewsClick. But the move to change the name of ‘Real FM’ operating from Kozhikode was met with strong opposition and the name was reinstated. Now the proposal to remove ‘Ananthapuri’ from the name of the FM station operating in Thiruvananthapuram has been put on hold, giving the temporary name ‘Ananthapuri Vividh Bharati Malayalam’.
Sources from AIR also indicate about the looming crisis, that more than 90 percent of the content creators in AIR would be retiring in 2023-24. After these retirements, the human resource crunch in AIR would make the daily program production practically impossible. The top-level management attempts to tackle the looming crisis, without even addressing the real issue. The last recruitment in AIR which came after 23 years, was in 2013. A common exam was conducted for the post of Program Executive and Transmission Executive, and around 500 staff were recruited across the country. Among those qualified, the candidates with a post-graduation were appointed as Program Executive and the rest were appointed as transmission executive, without considering their aptitude in content creation.
Lack of recruitment and flaws in management are the real issues in AIR, said an employee. The only promotion that the editorial staff received since 1988 was in 2018. Many who come to AIR in deputation with technological backgrounds are designated to make important decisions on content creation. For example, the decision to observe one-minute silence marking Martyrs’ day would be suitable for television, but not for radio. We have been going blank for a minute every January 30, for the past three years. This kind of decision comes from the lack of understanding about the medium, the radio producer said.
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