Television

Comment: DD birthday debate should be on change in attitude

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Indian pubcaster Doordarshan, which claims to be one of the largest television network in the world in terms of reach, appears all set to take on a new look --- is searching for a new logo, has auctioned prime time slots on DD National channel, is moving forward on acquiring newer technology, among other things.

But even as the pubcaster marks its 59th birthday on 15 September 2017, will all such moves get it out of the morass it has got itself into, and clear the dust and rust that has settled on umpteen reports making suggestions for improvement, including the Sam Pitroda report that was presented early in 2014?

Why does Doordarshan not function the way BBC World does, putting out the best of programmes without having to worry about the costs involved in production and minimum of influence from its political masters?

Perhaps, the answers to all these vexing questions lie in the unexplained relationship between the government and Prasar Bharati, which is the parent of DD and sibling All India Radio. Often, the query is raised whether Doordarshan was better off as a direct wing under Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) till the 1990s, or has it benefitted by becoming ‘autonomous’ after Prasar Bharati Act was enacted in 1997.

A perusal of questions answered in Parliament is very revealing. The replies in most cases begin with the lines that Prasar Bharati is an autonomous body and the government does not interfere, and yet MIB issues directives when it wants to.

Clearly, the answers will come when the details of this relationship become clear. Because, the biggest stumbling block to the pubcaster moving ahead in a fast changing world of broadcasting, according to a section of critics, is the government of the day, which does not leave it free to move on its own and instead believes in the general principle of he who pays the piper plays the tune. For the records, a major portion of funding of Prasar Bharati comes from the government.

Doordarshan was born on 15 September 1959 to beam for half an hour, three days a week with educational programmes. However, as its programming timing grew, so did the control by the government, which found in DD a perfect tool for propaganda.

Immediately after the national Emergency in 1977 when DD was used by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the national party that took over reins in the late seventies decided to work on autonomy for the public broadcaster. The then Minister for Information and Broadcasting L K Advani set up the B G Verghese Committee that recommended the formation of an Akash Bharati Trust.

Interestingly, DD saw its best days in the eighties when it was a department of the government with a series of programming that literally had the whole nation mesmerized. These path-breaking shows included ‘Hum Log’, ‘Buniyaad’, ‘Ramayana’, ‘Mahabharat’, `Tamas’ and ‘Nukkad’.

However, it was only in 1990 that Prasar Bharati Act was passed but it was much later in September 1997 that it was notified and Prasar Bharati became functional as an ‘autonomous’ corporation --- though still dependent on the government.  

BBC World is today held as one of the best examples of an autonomous public service broadcasters although it is also dependent to an extent on the British government for funding. But its main source of income comes from a license fee that each consumer household has to pay.

But the case of DD is different: despite being dependent on the government, it is running low on financial resources with each successive government insisting that Prasar Bharati should start generating its own resources.

In India, there have been several committees even after the B G Verghese Committee, which have gone into various aspects, but to little effect, and now the recommendations of the Sam Pitroda Committee --- the lone committee after the pubcaster was operationalized --- are being worked on.

But unfortunately, this report came out with nothing new that was not already being done by the broadcaster or had not been said by many a Parliamentary Standing Committee in reports year after year.

At a time when the country has around 900 licensed television channels, all in the private sector, Doordarshan cannot remain complacent by telling itself it is the most seen and heard broadcaster in the country.

Perhaps these lines by a Canadian author, who penned the fantasy series ‘Morningstar’, aptly sum up the confused state of Prasar Bharati that is completing two decades this month: “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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