For DD, it's time to introspect not celebrate

NEW DELHI: There were evenings in the 1960s to mid '70s when India, at least those homes fortunate to have TV sets, set their alarm clock in the evening to around 6 pm. It was that time the TV sets came alive with a signature tune and colour bands heralding something exciting.

Those were the days when Indian pubcaster Doordarshan brought the world and entertainment --- in a rationed manner typical of those pre-liberalization days --- to Indian homes via production values that would be considered shoddy by today’s standards.

Cut to circa 2016. TV sets today beam audio and video round the clock by DD, as Doordarshan came to be popularly known as, and a swathe of private sector TV channels.

However, at a time when DD celebrated its Foundation Day (or birthday) on September 15, a question that rankles everybody is: Why does Doordarshan not function like some other pubcasters --- the BBC, NHK, DW, PBS, etc ---- in terms of functioning and quality of programming?

Clearly, it is linked to another question: was Doordarshan doing better off when it was a direct wing of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), or has it benefitted by become ‘autonomous’ under Prasar Bharati?

Doordarshan since 1959 beamed for half an hour educational programmes three days a week. However, as its programming timing grew, so did the control by the government, which found in DD a perfect tool for propaganda.

Whether the Emergency days during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi or other governments, the government of the day realized the importance of DD’s widening networks and its role in pushing the government agenda.

The Prasar Bharati Bill, paving the way for an autonomous DD and sibling All India Radio, was only notified and formalized in 1997.

Interestingly, DD saw its hey days in the eighties with programmes like ‘Hum Log’; ‘Buniyaad’, ‘Ramayana’, ‘Mahabharat’, 'Tamas’ and ‘Nukkad’, among many others, which not only highlighted India’s cultural traditions but also the ongoing societal changes. In fact, one wonders, whether a serial like `Tamas’, based on India’s partition, could be made today without somebody’s sentiments getting hurt and, in the bargain, getting canned.

Though DD (and AIR) are modeled on the BBC -- as famously described the then MIB Minister Jaipal Reddy in 1997 -- DD’s case is different. Despite being dependent on government funding, it is running low on financial resources with each successive government insisting that Prasar Bharati start generating its own resources, but not letting go of the control. But this is difficult when the network has to compete against more than 800 private channels that are not impeded in terms of programming and other initiatives like DD is.

No wonder the present Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar said on DD’s birthday, "We need to look forward...renew our tryst with destiny."

Lines by a Canadian author, who penned ‘Morningstar’, aptly sum up the confused state of Prasar Bharati: “If you think you know what your purpose is, but can never seem to gain satisfaction from it, then it’s probably not the purpose you’re destined for.”

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