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Television Public Service Broadcasting In India

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5433 words Published: 27th Apr 2017

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Despite having global presence through two international channels from its bouquet, Doordarshan still lacks critical acclaim and popularity. After 50 years of its existence, it is far away from being a responsible public broadcaster producing quality programmes considering the technological up-gradations. This article tries to review the long 50 years of television public broadcasting in India, beginning with exploring its origin in 1959, travelling through the mile stones in broadcasting, and concluding at analyzing the pitfalls and challenges ahead, as against other PBS in the world. This is purely a qualitative study based on textual analysis.

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Key Words

Public Service Broadcasting, Doordarshan, AIR, Prasar Bharati, SITE, Propaganda, BBC, CNN, LPG Policy, Satellite Television, Carnegie document


For many in India, television still means Doordarshan, the only visual Public Service Broadcasting in India. The emergence of television in India in 1959 kindled several prospects of making the medium a facilitator of public education and social service since, in a country like India, a public broadcasting can play a very crucial role in eradicating illiteracy and social superstitions considering the multi-religious and multi-cultural population it holds. The idea of a public service broadcaster, as against the dominant American model of market-driven commercial broadcaster, is of utmost importance for a fast developing country like India, where it has to cater diverse audience, culture and language. Having accessible to 92% of population, the expectations of Doordarsshan as an active social commentator and guide is quite obvious. Public service broadcasting in its ideal form is driven by a sincere vision of providing accessible, diverse, independent and high-quality content to citizens. But this concept is losing ground, as 24 hour satellite channels altering the entertainment and educational need and perceptions of public to a greater extend which result in the tapering demarcation between commercial and public service broadcasting in India. However, when comparing with the other public service broadcasters in the world like BBC, ABC, and CBS, Indian public service broadcasting rarely get mentioned in International discourses. A service that could have made revolutions in social upliftment and every sectors of social life is struggling to get audience and their attention. Television in India, which celebrated its 50th year of existence in India, pose several concerns for Prasar Bharathi, the autonomous body ruling the public service media- AIR and Doordarshan, to rethink their strategies and programme quality. The proliferation of satellite commercial broadcasters made the road even punitive for the public broadcasters whose major source of financial income is mainly the government fund. However recently, Doordarshan is again giving a ray of hope that it could make changes as a public broadcaster, but the revolution is very much gradual. This is evident in some of its liaison and joint venture with private channels in broadcasting programmes like Satyameva Jayate. The rationale for the failure of public broadcasting ranges from political patronage, bottlenecks to financial system and lethargic attitude towards broadcasting.

Television as a social educator- an initial undertaking

Even though experiments in television broadcasting were initiated during the 1920s in US and Europe, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was reluctant to accept the demand from the educational institutions, politicians, industrialists and the middle-class in urban areas for the introduction of television in India (Kumar, 2000). The government felt that television is only a luxury that is not affordable for a nation like India, which is only in its genesis to reach economically stable. However, in 1958, Philips demonstrated the television usages in an exhibition at New Delhi, the capital of India, who also put forward an offer to provide Indian government with low cost transmitters. UNESCO's grant of $20,000 for the purchase of community receivers together with United States' offer of some equipment was least unacceptable for the Ministry, which gave a green signal to it on an experimental basis. But the sole purpose was to inspect what a system like television can do to developmental programmes and formal education in India. On September 1959, under the department of AIR (All India Radio), a Television Centre was established in New Delhi, having low power transmitter, the range of which was only 40 Kilometers around Delhi. Unlike today, television was not a part of every household, but it was provided at about 180 'teleclubs', situated around New Delhi. Social education programmes began to be telecasted twice a week each of 20 minutes duration. The programmes were modest, advising public about some hygienic activities. The Federal Republic of Germany helped in setting up a movable studio at New Delhi and, on 1965 august, apart from these social education programmes, entertainment and information programmes were introduced. By 1967, the duration of the service was increased to 3 hrs and the range of transmitter too was extended to 60 Kilometers encompassing more areas reaching to neighboring states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The most significant programme was 'Krishi Darshan' (1967) with the help of Department of Atomic Energy, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the Delhi Administration and the State Governments of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

The great man and visionary behind the broadcasting development in India is Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the brain behind the Indian Space exploration, who believed that satellite television system could bring in further reach to social and economical developments and make the communication system in India more potential(Singhal & Rogers, 2001). As per his vision, a National Satellite Communication Group (NASCOM) was established in 1968. It recommended a broadcasting system in which communication satellites and ground based microwave relay transmitters will be used. Accordingly, in 1969, Department of Atomic Energy signed an agreement with NASA for the loan of a satellite free of cost for a year for a pilot experiment project called SITE (Satellite Instructional Television Experiment) which took off on August 1975. The service used NASA's ATS- 6 satellite to broadcast programmes directly through the satellite to the receivers or community sets installed at schools (through earth transmitters) at 2400 villages, spread over six states- Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The programmes on education, agriculture, health and family planning, were broadcasted four hours a day from earth stations at Delhi and Ahmedabad. Programs were planned and produced by AIR with the help of government representatives, academicians and social workers at productions in Delhi, Hyderabad and Cuttack. To add with it, ISRO too set up its own Audio- Visual instruction Division to plan and produce programmes according to schedule. Of these four hours, one and a half period was aimed at children of primary and pre-primary schools. Since the satellite had only one video channel and two Audio channels, programmes could be transmitted only to two synchronized languages with same picture (Kumar, K.J; 2000) - hence 22 minutes each day in Telugu, Kannada, Oriya and Hindi languages. Even though programmes relating to agriculture, family planning, health and education had some effect on the public, it didn't made a deep mark in the societal and educational development in India. A SITE evaluation Studies was instituted by the Planning Commission and Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad who concluded that there were no appreciable gains in the adoption of agricultural practices or family planning methods. Technologically too, SITE encountered many problems. By the first month itself, half of the TV receivers were out of order giving valuable learning experience for software and hardware people of the media. But despite its failure, SITE was the most ambitious step taken by the country in the television broadcasting.

Nuances with Other Public Broadcasters

John Reith, the first Director General of BBC opined that broadcasting should not be driven by market considerations, but should be reflecting high cultural standards. As such a license payment system was introduced so as to make fund for the financial activities of BBC and to increase their responsibility towards the public. Until the emergence of other private and satellite channels, commercials were unknown to BBC. But even when the competition enhanced among the broadcasters upon commercials, BBC almost relied on license payment as their main revenue source. Because of the fear of public protest, care is always given to adhere to their policies and accountability to their viewers. Today BBC has branched into different channel catering to al sections of the socity like BBC News, BBC Entertainment, BBC Knowledge CBeebies etc. BBC Learning, an online forum for all age groups spans a wide range of activities - from programmes and resources for Schools and the Open University to educational interactive programmes like language learning, specific subject classes etc. It provides high quality learning resources on television, radio and online.

In America, Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB), a non-profit institution created in 1967, funding Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR), is vested with the responsibility of public service broadcasting. Even though considered as a market driven broadcasting, the quality and the role played by a non-profit broadcasting corporation is worth conferring. It is engaged primarily in the production, acquisition, distribution or dissemination of educational and cultural television or radio programmes and it meets the needs of the public. It is written in their Broadcasting Congressional Declaration Policy that the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities (http://www.cpb.org/aboutpb/act/). Even though institutional setup is quite similar to Prasar Bharathi, program quality and diversity is incomparable.

In Japan too, like India, broadcasting began as a public operation by Nippon Hoso Kokkai (NHK) in 1926, but the 'social responsibilities' are defined in the broadcasting law. The concept of 'self-regulation', 'social responsibilities' and 'public interest requirement of media' are as key concepts to achieve the harmony between freedom of speech and expression and social order under the liberal and democratic system (Kishore, 2003). The earnestness and sincerity of public broadcasting is evident in the NHK Business Report which says,

We aim at Broadcasting that is trustworthy and approachable. We will always be aware of the audience, make full use of new media such as the Internet, and establish two way communications by absorbing many opinions, and reflecting them in the contents. In view of the new age of multiple media in the 21st century, we will endeavor to strengthen the basis of public broadcasting by enhancing the connection with the audience. (NHK Official Website)

Even though public service broadcasting of radio in India started in the BBC model of transmission, television didn't maintain this status quo. Doordarshan, since its inception, relied on government fund and later on in commercials, even though license was in currency until 1985. As said earlier, the control of broadcasting was completely vested upon government and hence left no chance of public commitment. By 1985, in the great television boom, advertising revenues allowed the abolition of license fees on television enabling the expansion of Doordarshan services. Committees appointed at different period, had diverse views on the control of PBS in India. Ashok Chanda Committee (1966) recommended for an institutional change to liberate the rigid financial and administrative procedures of the government because according to them it is not possible for a creative medium like broadcasting to flourish under a regime of departmental rules and regulations. Like BBC, it urged for a corporation set up by an Act of Parliament. But B.G Varghese Committee recommended an autonomous Trust called Akash Bharati which should be independent, impartial and autonomous, also under an Act of Parliament.

In the wake of LPG Policy itself, there were uprisings from the part of administrators and officials to free the public broadcaster from the clutches of political administration. The demand for autonomy for the broadcast media was gaining increasing support. Even though the National Front Government introduced the Prasar Bharati Bill in the first Parliamentary session in January 1990 to grant autonomy to broadcast media, the Bill was kept quiescent until 1997. Witnessing the proliferation of satellite channels, thinking that privatization will be the refreshing factor, government waved green signal to the Act on September 1997. Thus the Prasar Bharathi Board came into existence under whose supervision and guidance public service broadcasting survive till date. The major drawback was the inability to put the Prasar Bharati Bill into force when it was passed in 1990, which was the pertinent time, and when it was passed, it became too late, as the media scene became crowded with private satellite broadcasters, where Doordarshan became a mere cacophony. By analyzing the history of other public broadcasters of the world, it is evident that India probably may be the only broadcaster that delayed the recognition and formation of independent public service broadcaster, even though the facility and service began decades before. It took almost four decades to make Public Broadcasting freed from the clutches of Government regime, but as it is formed as an act of Parliament, it still prevails under government consent and mercy.

At the initial stage, programmes were only in English and Hindi. Later, upon Varghese Committee recommendations a three- tier system of broadcasting was introduced- National, regional and local- catering to diverse culture and language. At present Doordarshan operated through a network of 1400 terrestrial transmitter that cover almost 91% of population having 10 National Channels, 41 Regional and State Networks and two International Channel (DD Bharati, DD India). Even though AIR too come under the same governance of Prasar Bharati, they absolutely lack political coordination between them, making both work like separate entity.

Amidst the Satellite Boom!

The introduction of colour television prior to the Asian games was an appreciating step taken by the broadcasting ministry. Nevertheless the sale of TV sets too soared as the people wish to watch the games form their drawing rooms itself. But the Indian economy was still dwindling because of its policy of 'self reliance', closing doors to the rest of the world in fear of cultural imperialism. This was in fact the best time for Doordarshan to stamp its presence as a responsible public broadcaster by telecasting everlasting developmental stories. However, as a result of LPG (Liberalization, Privitization and Globalization) Policy in 1991, CNN was the first private channel to operate in India through the live coverage of Gulf war in 1991.Subsequently, Star TV owned by the media mogul Murdoch went on air with its four channels. It was a thunder hit for the public broadcaster Doordarshan since the newly came channels concentrated more on entertainment and refreshing programmes, whether Doordarshan was still dwindling on defining its role. While Doordarshan as a mass medium had succeeded enormously with development support communication initially and reached out to marginalize sections with local content in far-flung areas of the country, it had failed desperately in its agenda of social development and communication, when the sudden inflow of satellite channels and foreign programmes conquered the small screens.

Doordarshan responded to the proliferation of satellite channels through two veneer- increasing the number of channels and restructuring the contents. Hence, its four second channels operating in Delhi, Bombay, Madras and Lucknow operating their regional services, were merged into a single national channel named DD2 or DD Metro, which turned to be a pure entertainment channel with soap operas, film based programmes, sit-coms, game shows etc. Later on in the subsequent months, the coverage of this new channel was extended to include 18 more cities which now reach at almost everywhere in India. The DD 1 remained under the banner of development programming, along with the news bulletins, for which it was introduced in 1959. In order to compete with the growing popularity of STAR TV and Zee TV, Doordarshan started a 24 hr satellite movie channel through INSAT 2B, dubbed 'Movie Club', showing Hindi and English hit movies. However the channel was abolished four years later since its viewership declined because of its regular broadcasting of flop movies and its repeated telecasts. DD 3, a channel launched for current affairs and arts, also died off with political interruptions. Amidst all this odd, Doordarshan now maintains 10 National channels, about 40 regional channels and two international broadcasting. Nevertheless, despite the introduction of new channels and programs, Doordarshan still is not able to reclaim the legacy that it enjoyed few years before the introduction of satellite channels. By 1996, there were almost 20 satellite and cable channels vying up for commercials for their survival apart from state broadcaster, which only increased by 2001 to occupy almost 250 channels, there by splitting the advertising revenue radically, affecting the state broadcaster depending upon commercials as well.

The remarkable shift in the content orientation of Public broadcaster began when Doordarshan being unable to find programs to run 24 hour long in DD 2, leased time to private channels. As such MTV, the icon of western culture, conquered that opportunity, swiftly moving from STAR TV to DD 2 in 1994. As Sinha (1996) opined, this decision resulted in a mockery of the public broadcasting as a whole as Information and Broadcasting Minister K.P Singh Deo's retorting in 1993 that cultural invasion by satellite television will be met with Doordarshan's indigenous programming strategy. A shift from state- domination to market dominated system, was both unwelcoming for a public broadcasting like Doordarshan in a developing country and inevitable as the source of income is otherwise limited to government fund. 'Shakthiman' and 'Surabhi' initially collected many commercials but later on its audience began to be swept away by the private channels because of the former's diminishing programme quality and repetitive themes, which led to the proliferation of the private channels which put forward attractive and novel concepts of programming.

Moreover, as said earlier, since Doordarshan drastically failed in its definition of development communication, amidst the satellite channel revolution, it failed to position itself as either a responsible public broadcaster or a commercial broadcaster. In the social responsibility theory, the media has certain obligations to society to serve its needs rather than the market. It expects journalists to answer society's need for truth, requires an open and diverse debate on public issues, and honest updates of current events. In this model, media ethics is automatic because the press is free to serve its purpose for the public, as opposed to special interest groups or advertisers (Coleman, B; 2009). Constraints by the organizational setup of Prasar Bharatu, public broadcasting in India took an entirely distinct meaning that of a low production quality broadcasting (Vasanti, 2009)

'Political Broadcasting' or 'Propaganda Machine'

Realizing the potential of public service broadcasting, BBC model of radio broadcasting was adopted in India on 1930s. Since its inception and mainly after independence, it had been under the prejudices of Congress Party, who were ruling India for decades after independence. As Jeffrey (2006) pointed, after independence the legacy of broadcasting came under the control of Congress party, who put their own experiences, ideas and prejudices into media policy and most of the policy makers were hostile and ignorant towards media.

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In the case of television, perhaps, Indira Gandhi is the first Minister who recognized the potentiality of television for political propaganda. By 1970, the number of television sets drastically increased as the popularity of both the television sets and Indira Government soared. It was during the emergency period (June 26, 1975- January 1977) that great developments occurred as far as broadcasting is considered, even though it is considered as the darkest period for print media and for the society at large. By 1976, seven more transistors began to be operated in different parts of India- Bombay, Srinagar, Amritsar, Pune, Calcutta (Kolkatta), Madras (Chennai) and Lucknow. As per the Chanda Commission report, television and Air was separated in haste making television broadcasting a separate department, realizing the wide acceptability of this new medium among the public. It did almost nothing for the sake of society and was moving away from its social responsibilities for which it was introduced, but making itself as a propaganda machine for the Congress Government.

DD 3 was initially planned as a channel dedicated to arts, dance, drama and current affairs, but was scrapped days before its expected launch in 1994 by then Congress Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao. Doordarshan planned to revamp its current affairs programme through this new channel making use of its monopoly of live broadcasting. This would have brought credibility and authenticity to its news service. However, Doordarshan being politically dominated, the survival of it was hardly possible amidst the strict invigilation of Ministry. The Congress government thought that the failure of their party in the by- election in some southern states is due to the activism of Doordarshan in current affairs, and that they felt this new channel could act against them in the coming elections also. By this termination, Doordarshan lost its opportunity to capture audience credibility as well as the market through its live coverage. It the next year, however, DD3 was re-launched with only to peter out within a few days due to financial burden as per the government. It was only in 2003 that Doordarshn again came out with a 24 hour news channel, replacing DD2. Hence Doordarshan always was expected to be politically committed to the government that decided its fate as well as failure. For instance in the post- emergency election campaign, Indira Gandhi ordered the Delhi Station to screen 'Bobby'(1974), a blockbuster film, in order to minimize the crowd at the oppositions party's rally. As Jeffrey (2006) pointed out amidst the envious tradition of media freedom, English speaking journalists and expanding electronic industry, the AIR and Doordarshan could not mold itself into a flexible and fast moving organization mainly because of its government clutches. Since its inception, public broadcasting continuous to face two major concerns - the amount government control and the public broadcaster's stand in political discussion. Even after forming Prasar Bharathi Board, this apprehension continuous as Prasar Bharati is still answerable to government because the source of funding is from government.

Despite the rich and highly experienced human resources they possess, sincerity towards the duty as a social broadcaster was never performed by the officials. They are only answerable to the Parliament, not to the public, unlike BBC. Red tapism, beurocracy and bottle necks are rampant over the corridors. Lack of transparency, both in the managerial and financial take away the credibility of Doordarshan among the audience. The news bulletins broadcasted in DD1 AND DD News is premeditated in such a way that no opposition parties will get ample positive representations. This makes the programmes partial, unbalanced, discriminatory and subjective, in a country where there is absolute freedom of expression.

Failures within!

Public Broadcaster must be a powerful instrument of social, cultural and political development rather than just an alternative consumer service. There are some general consensuses about a Public Service Broadcaster despite its place of origin- i) the signals must be available to all devoid of any discrimination of caste, creed or religion, ii) the programmes should be of good quality for the public good and social enlightment taking into consideration the diverse audience and needs, and iii) it should be independent, autonomous and free from political and religious pressure. As far the public broadcasting of India is concerned, first criteria mentioned is well implemented, but back dropped in the other two.

Even before the onslaught of satellite channels, Doordarshan was falling into the trap of overt entertainment by concentrating on soaps like Buniyaad and Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, film musical shows like Chitrahar, Rangoli, the ideal period which could have been wisely used to make quality programmes. The opportunity was massive as it can be considered as a golden period of Doordarshan since it had the strong support from the part of audience whose only visual experience was through this channel. As a public broadcaster Doordarshan miserably failed in utilizing this period to build a strong stand of development communication and nature of programming. The invasion of mediasphere by the satellite channels wouldn't have made much impact on the public broadcaster if they would have made use of the monopoly they were enjoying. After the satellite channel boost, the road was unclear and tough as satellite channels backed with incisive financial support and quality maintiaing human resource began to conquer the households. Since it is not a profit and loss enterprise like commercial channels, it does not have the requisite push for better programming.

Another major reason for their failure is their inefficiency or laggardness in considering the different notions of development. Till this period, development communication is only limited to agriculture (e.g. Karishi Darshan) and agro-related programmes, though India is basically an agrarian society. Human development, social and cultural development and development in science and technology, industry, small scale industry etc are almost neglected. Except for only a countable programmes like Surabhi, Programme by Prof .Yaspal, World this week by Prannoy Roy, Ankom Deki by Nalini Singh etc, it is not taking the don of an agent of social change in the Indian Public sphere. Minorities, ethnics and aboriginals are not given enough representations, space, and time by the public broadcaster, making them underrepresented. If Doordarshan has actively intervened in these areas of tribes, aboriginals, minorities etc it would have been a good opportunity for Doordarshan in the social reconstructions and society rebuilding.

In the area of news as well, Doordarshan has failed dejectedly as often editorial decision is vested upon political patronage. The scrapped DD3 is a satisfactory example. It is not able to mould effective and powerful public opinion, plat form for discussion and debate and participations. For instance, News Bulletins are the trade mark of Doordarshan, which they boast as the perfect way of presenting current affairs to the society. The embargo imposed upon DD3 when it was introduced in 1985, created a cleft in its journey to attain incomparable position as a current affairs channel. As a reprisal, Doordarshan still follows the very old traditional method of news processing and dissemination, that seems to be mechanical and peripheral with no depth or investigative which often looks like government declarations and gazette. It often fails to get ample international news and footages because it lacks cooperation's, sharing, and give and take from international news agencies and media groups.

To add with the anguish, Doordarshan broadcasted programmes according to their national mandate not taking into consideration the diverse culture and linguistics of the nation. When channels are becoming more and more localized and niche-casted, as Agrawal, & Raghaviah (2006) opined, one short coming Doordarshan faced was its Delhi-centric view of India especially in news coverage. Even though having innumerable regional channels, their authority is always vested with the centre.

Though Doordarshan has the largest number of channels in its bouquet (see appendix 1), due to the lack of innovation, novelty and quality, it left itself to be the medium of villagers and low-income people, who have no other choice, but to content with the contents of the free broadcasting. 65% of population has access to satellite channels either through cable connection or DTH, thanks to the technological growth, but Doordarshan is viewed gravely by the remaining few. Doordarshan has not taken any strategy to take into considerations these minority viewers by effectively activating them through informative developmental programmes as media plays a vital role in nation building as a viable channel of development communication. It was in this concept that Rogers interpreted Diffusion of Innovation theory. Mass media channels are more effective in creating knowledge of innovations among the society where it will diffuse and spread through interpersonal communication. But this is not made use by Doordarshan even though has amble space for proper development communication.

Even though Doordarshan entered into the media race by increasing the channels number and altering its contents, it was never considered as a strong competitor by other commercial channels due to its clichéd and outdated contents and poor telecast and presentation quality. The management structure and political pressure were the two main factors for the technological backwardness of public service broadcasting in India. In spite of the formation of Prasar Bharathi Corporation, it was not able to maintain autonomy as the management was always at the mercy of the ruling party.

Doordarshan have the number one geographical coverage on Indian Population of 92% but it miserable fails to cater these populations with the use of modern technologies like online broadcast, internet protocol television formats and OB van broadcasts which is quite commonly utilized by commercial channels. For any television industry whether commercial or public broadcaster, the threat is evident in the proliferation of new media technologies like online content delivery, social networking sites, blogs etc, where contents are updated every seconds. When many of the commercial channels have taken the new online platform as a complimentary step rather than adversary by making the new technologies for catering interactive relationship with audience (through their effective websites, audience forum, enquiry board etc), Doordarshan's online presence is just synonymous to a mere programme chart.

The reason for the technological backwardness lies at the point that the focus of Indian broadcasting since 1970s had been largely on hardware expansion, not the quality maintenance. For instance after 1982, the agenda was each transmitter a day which has now become 1400 terrestrial transmitters altogether. Even though it made possible for the proliferation of television in rural areas, it didn't do much to improve the software techniques or quality aspects.

In 1982, P.C Joshi committee was appointed to prepare the software plan for Doordarshan- 'An Indian Personality for Television'. The report had ambitiously discovered the pitfalls of Public broadcasting in India and had come up with viab


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