It was back to the Doordarshan days recently, when with mandatory cable TV digitisation in the metro cities from November 1, over one lakh households fell short of set top boxes. With no other option available, the viewers were ‘reduced’ to watching evening news on Doordarshan’s two channels -- Doordarshan National and DD News.
Whoever wrote Doordarshan – the national channel for India – off, needs to think again. For, it does all – from films and debates to bringing in education for all. Quality, that’s been missing for some time now, is slowly picking up as programming indicates. In fact, it has come a long way from being the sole avenue of entertainment to a bouquet of channels that give our daily dose of news, views, entertainment, and information. Today, it’s not just about its reach, it’s also about Doordarshan enjoying 92 per cent coverage of the country through its terrestrial network with a viewership of about 2.5 crore people.
On the other hand, DD – as Times of India reports – it’s not just TV channels, “the government is also keen on having a presence in print and radio. There is urgency to the move in view of elections in 2014 when the government having its own media would be undoubtedly helpful.”
According to the newspaper, while the Punjab government sought permission for its own TV channel, the Gujarat government and HRD ministry sought I&B ministry’s nod to set up educational channels on their own DTH platforms.
For those above the age of 30, we all suffer a sense of nostalgia, when it comes to Doordarshan or DD as it has popularly been known. Many of us would still remember DD as the sole avenue – apart from the cinema, theatres, fairs and ‘melas’ – where visual amusement actually happened.
Thereafter came the VCR, the CDs, the many special channels that focussed on entertainment and DD was no more appealing. It got a silent burial. For long, no one would talk about it and those who would, would primarily speak of the colossal losses that Prasar Bharati – the autonomous public broadcaster comprising Doordarshan and All India Radio –accumulated in the past few years.
According to an estimate, the public broadcaster has been running into losses for years and it has now attained alarming proportion. The Rajya Sabha was told in August that Prasar Bharati’s accumulated losses since 2009 were Rs 4,224.55 crore.
To Group of Ministers which looks into its functioning, including the financial, employee and administrative issues of the public broadcaster, recommended that the government should extend financial assistance it from non-plan funds to meet its salary-related expenses from 2011-12 to 2015-16.
Be that as it may, changing trends are visible with Doordarshan. Though DD News is perceived to be quite stoic and pro-establishment, it being owned by the government, it has in the recent past stepped in with news that may have been given a complete go-by earlier. To exemplify, admittedly the Lokpal Bill or Anna Hazare featured in the DD News ticker, although it did not carry full-blown debates like other private news channels did. One can see that the national news channel does not want to go the BBC way but at the same time, it tries to be neutral, providing news as information, sans comments or opinions.
As Shikha Nehra says in her blog, ‘theviewspaper.net’, “… while the so called 24x7 news channels are in a race to win maximum TRPs, and are busy out-doing one another, DD News seems to be unaffected with the competition. Over, the years, where private news channels have turned every stone to please the audience, DD News appears to be least bothered about it if anyone is watching them.”
Another thing that has stood by Doordarshan’s news presentation is its ability to steer clear of the hysteria and sensationalisation that private channels are often guilty of. With news and debate presentations clearly heading for an improvement, with efforts being made to improve presentation, better programming and cameramanship, and making overall appearance brighter, peppier and alive.
In order to make things better for Prasar Bharati, its CEO Jawhar Sircar said in November that a revamp programme of Rs 500 crore have been undertaken by the national broadcasting network. He had also said then that unless the entire process of broadcasting and telecasting news and other programmes through the government media was democratised further, it would be very difficult to remain competitive in the present environment of globalisation.
But there are problems. For one, Doordarshan has less than 10 per cent share of the Rs 15,000 crore earned by broadcasters in India annually and this is in spite of reaching 92 per cent or 150 million homes across the country. Further, the broadcasting network is seen only good for products targeting the rural market in the country, thus narrowing its scope among media planners and advertisers.
Added to this, there is a fundamental problem of Doordarshan’s positioning being – as Business Standard says – “unclear and contradictory”. The business newspaper quoting a CEO of a TV channel: “Nearly 70 per cent of their programme is cinema or entertainment, based on which they are competing directly with private channels that do it much better. That should not be the focus of a public broadcaster. Their biggest problem is what they want to become.”
Another problem that the public broadcasting network faces it that it has nearly stopped advertising.
Despite these shortfalls, DD aficionados will agree that there is still something distinctly different about the good ol’ Doordarshan. Though it lacks the showiness of channels that we see today, it has an ethereal quality of, sans the glamour, which can be equalled by none. Although it does not speak of much technological inputs – at least that's what it seems on air, no matter what’s their behind the lens – Doordarshan’s more than half a century old and, I think, still going strong.
For, although what the private channels get us are slicker and neater, the common man – that is the grassroots – of the country continue to have a place for DD in his heart. Agreed that it’s no more the 80s, when the era of entertaining serials and offbeat soaps was ushered into India, DD’s local connect, simplicity and themes continue to endear the masses. This was exhibited recently with the telecast of the telecast of ‘Satyamev Jayate’. Although the programme was aired as per a revenue-sharing deal with Star TV, it looked grand and very fitting for Doordarshan. Same goes with the Coke experiment of a Coke Studio which earned DD Rs 14 crore.
And to build on these facets, Doordarshan needs to go along what experts recommend it to – the broadcaster has to initiate greater measures to involve the public, back itself with market research, enhance the quality of programming, yet ensure that it caters also to urban India, and be creative and innovative about it.