If one had to get down to dissecting US President Barack Obama’s India visit coverage, there are many points that would come to the forefront. For instance, so-and-so channel made the whole affair an India-Pakistan agenda, or so-and-so channel was lost with its agenda, even if its Editor-in-Chief was excited about meeting Barack Obama and discussing tigers. Of course, I am not going to name the channels, because that is not what this article is about. The one thing that stood out more than anything else in this coverage was how all national channels were relaying - ‘Courtesy DD’ visuals.
The Obama visit was not accessible to the cameras of most channels except for public broadcaster Doordarshan. Not surprising. At least not for those, who have seen examples of cricket matches, where channels and sports affiliates burn crores of rupees in procuring telecast rights, but they better share the coverage with Doordarshan, so says the written word.
Also, not surprising for those who are privy to conversations where industry stalwarts speak on how Doordarshan, that in any case enjoys benefits of distribution, also gets to be placed in the first 60 channels for any distribution network. This is when all other channels, especially news channels, are spending 40 per cent of their revenues on carriage fees.
It doesn’t matter what aspect of input one is looking at, Doordarshan has the best of it all. The whole scenario is comparable to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which again is the public service broadcaster of the United Kingdom. Well, almost comparable.
Like DD, BBC too is government run, more specifically a tax-payer-funded organisation. Advertising revenues are not on its mandate because it can be seen conflicting with the company’s primary aim of providing public service broadcasting. So BBC has the ‘unfair’ advantage that in our country DD has. Till that point, very comparable.
However, after that, it is important to ask ourselves why is it that BBC is seen as the number one organisation that a budding journalist or a media person would like to join, and the same cannot be said about Doordarshan.
I was discussing this with an industry friend, and he asked me, “You know editors and brand directors in TV Today Network, MCCS, Times Television Network, Zee News Ltd... Who do you know in DD?” Irrespective of how poorly this reflects on me, I really don’t know anyone I can call and understand more on DD from. I am not saying I don’t know people in DD. I have had the chance to meet DD officials in industry forums, including that of exchange4media’s. But DD officials are rarely there to give comments, to inform on what is happening with the company, or to make an attempt to show that they have plans to take this competitive broadcasting space seriously.
For many of the young aspiring journalists, cameramen, technicians, or the likes, DD is not even in the top five places they want to be. It may not be because of the work atmosphere, but for the lack of knowledge regarding it. DD has not created a perception that gets it ‘up there’ in anyone’s consideration set. I wonder - why not?
These are very competitive times. Irrespective of the sector, there is competition in everything one wishes to do. DD realises that for sure. It has numbers to prove that it has been left far behind by the other players – Zee Channels, Star channels, Times Now, NDTV, India TV... Even if one took off TRPs from the equation, DD has still taken for granted that it sits on a pedestal, and its position is known to the newcomers.
Is the DD advantage being wasted? Is one great destination wiped off the options list because not enough efforts have been made to remind one of what DD stands for and why it is important in the Indian media ecosystem?
For now, I think, yes.
For the future, I hope, it changes...