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Needed: a non-interfering govt in television

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If I look back on the year 2002 I don’t see anything major having happened. From the policy point of view I would like to point out what the government has not done or couldn’t pull of. But 2003 can and will unveil action on the TV front. The classic case of government indifference would be that of DD News which was closed down unceremoniously. It is amazing to see how, what I would call, state controlled television not being able to make much of a difference to viewers despite the infrastructure at its disposal.

Though the government did claim to have initiated many policy decisions on the media front in 2002, I would prefer minimum involvement of the government in the television industry. The more the government stays away, especially from news channels, the better. Though not many channels would admit it openly but there are various pulls and pressures from the government.

In the backdrop of this, I see the year 2003 as an important year in terms of infotainment oriented programming. One thing that will emerge very prominently is that emphasis that would be laid on Hindi language news programmes.

     

"Some R&D, as I would call it, needs to be done if the news channels would like to have good content put together by talented people. Otherwise mediocrity will rule supreme" 

Since I consider NDTV a blue chip in English language television journalism, it also means there is definitely an equivalent slot vacant in the Hindi category. Now I feel there are various ways to look at this issue. What will be of importance is the idiom of language used.

For example, Aaj Tak and Zee News, both of which address the lowest common denominator. There is no denying that Aaj Tak has become a benchmark for a new idiom of language that it uses. When Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati transferred en masse bureaucrats in the state, Aaj Tak’s headline was `afsaron ka katle aam`(the carnage of officials). Now this style may sound odd to puritans, but Aaj Tak is a success story.

Second issue as I see, which too needs to be tackled by the news channels, is whether (Hindi) language is going to be class privilege --- Sanskritsed Hindi or Urdu laced with Hindustani or the colloquial terminology used by the masses. What do we do when we come across technical terms like friction electricity? Would we refer to it as `gharshan vidyut`?

Such issues will arise and have to be tackled by the television industry as India is not a homogenous country like the US. In the US, not only is there homogeneity of language (that is English) but also living standards. Then comes the issue of positioning of a news channel. We are already seeing the positions being taken in television. Soon viewers will also have a clear idea of the positioning of the existing and the proposed news channels and the ideology they champion. For example, it is well known that the owner of a channel has attended an RSS meeting. It will be very interesting to see how the new news channels position themselves.

The fourth issue of importance is that of connectivity .This pertains to access. Here aspects like cutting edge technology and human resources come in . How will viewers access channels and who all are providing content for the news channels? I strongly feel that a lot of mediocrity has crept into TV journalism because of the `conveyor belt` mentality that has resulted in mediocre people being pushed up at medium level senior positions.

That is why I feel a lot of sifting needs to take place to spot real talent. Let me be very frank and say that good print medium journalists need not necessarily make good television journalists. Of course, there are people like Vir Sanghvi, Rajat Sharma and Rajdeep Sardesai who are and have been not only good print journalists, but are also good on television. How many such young people we have? Some R&D, as I would call it, needs to be done if the news channels would like to have good content put together by talented people. Otherwise mediocrity will rule supreme.

Then comes the crucial issue of distribution because without efficient distribution mechanisms even good content on TV channels can go largely unnoticed. And for new channels in the coming days this will be very important. I feel distribution will have a crucial role to play in the short time between January to September 2003 when a lot of jostling among news channels will take place.

Since there is a new interest for news channels, there is also scope for getting revenues. The news channels are realising that so far revenue at national level has been collected . There is so much of revenue to be mopped up from the regional markets . For instance, for Nathu’s Sweets (a chain of eateries very popular in Delhi and surrounding areas) a channel meant for the national capital region is a better advertising option rather than going on to a channel which is available country wide.

Lastly, I am saddened by the demise of popular music from television that is largely dominated by Indi-pop these days. Not that I am against Indi-pop, but I feel the lack of quality bhajans and qawwalis is making TV more kitschy where saas-bahu type of programing is gaining prominence. For me this is nothing but dumbing down of India. I love Finnegans Wake.

(The writer is a TV personality and advisor to Sahara group’s news channels project. The views expressed here are personal and indiantelevision need not necessarily subscribe to them. His e-mail: its_bakli@hotmail.com)

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