What do you do if you are a public service broadcaster and elections are just around the corner? You rejig your news channel and hope that your constituency—that inscrutable mass that is the voters—will notice the good work of the government. Back in 2004, the BJP-led NDA had done it. Cut to 2013, the Congress-led UPA is doing the same, though the scale of the revamp is much more modest. The BJP put up a whole new team in place, with spiffy anchors hired from rival news channels and having on its rolls those close to the political dispensation. But it lost the election in 2004 and the news team disappeared into the studios of other news and current affairs channels.
Yet again, DD is waking up to the competition, and elections. For the time being, the current rejig is being confined to the prime band between eight and 10.30 pm. The advertisements have already begun in right earnest, exhorting viewers all of last week to tune into News Night—a current affairs programme in Hindi and English which made a low-key debut on January 28. Sources say close to Rs 4 crore have already been spent on the advertising.
Quite typically, the ads (which are not by DAVP) say, ‘Watch News Night’ with hosts Ajay Shukla or Sanjeev Srivastava. Srivastava, an old BBC hand, is leading the new team of eight. As for Shukla, DD viewers may recall his association with NDTV. Srivastava defends the advertising for the new channel, saying that a new product needs advertising. “It does seem like a channel within a channel, but it is not so.”
However, the favoured treatment being meted out to the new channel and faces continues to attract criticism. Eyebrows are being raised at Shukla’s very appointment, given that he is the brother-in-law of part-time Prasar Bharati Board member, Suman Dubey, considered one of the closest insiders in the Gandhi family circle. Prasar Bharati chairperson Mrinal Pande, however, rationalises that Dubey excused himself from the decision-making, citing conflict of interest.
Even with its CEOs, DD has always attracted the criticism that they are drawn from among those perceived to be close to the ruling dispensation. It is the same with incumbent CEO Jawhar Sircar, who came in a little over a year ago and who sources say is keen on the Doordarshan revamping project. In fact, so enthusiastic is the gentleman that he apparently shoots off mails to colleagues, directing them to apportion some airtime to him—as he moves from one public engagement to another!
Pande also said the committee under Sam Pitroda was currently in the process of finalising a report on the revamp which the board would subsequently take up. It is the fourth such committee to have been established to suggest ways to restructure the corporation. The committee has a further 11 subcommittees, and there are over 26,000 employees on the rolls. Which leads to the next bone of contention. With an entire cadre of Information Service officials who have traditionally served Doordarshan, All India Radio and the Press Information Bureau, why hire outsiders on salaries that are denied to homegrown staffers? Especially if its ad line boasts ‘DD News, biggest network and biggest reach’. “We work through the year, and suddenly the board and the ministry decide to appoint some old faces from private channels who have been ignored by their own channels and are out of a job,” one such officer complains.
What is also being resented is that the UPA chose to do nothing in the last eight years and has all of a sudden decided on a revamp one year away from the election. “This is the bane of the corporation: a new team is set up and then dismantled when the party in power loses,” says a corporation official.
The ministry pleads the pressure of competition as the impulse behind the revamp. “Large-scale urbanisation has brought with it the pressure to compete,” says an official from the ministry. “And overall improvement is being worked out for the entire Prasar Bharati corporation.” “As a news channel,” adds another source, “you have to make an attempt to stay relevant and a search committee had already decided to revamp Doordarshan and air.”
As chairman of the corporation, Mrinal Pande cannot agree more. The time has clearly come to professionalise the entire set-up. As for all the criticism, her response is, “Whenever there is a revamp, some quarters do get unnecessarily alarmed.”
To be fair to the channel, though, it had a programme following the hanging of Afzal Guru, in the process annoying some hawks. They accused it of becoming a “Pakistani” channel because it had on its panel guests who were critical of the hanging. According to sources, DD’s Srinagar Kendra cautioned officials that Doordashan was sending a wrong signal in the Valley by putting out a separatist agenda!
This may be more of an exception than a rule, and for DD it pays to toe the government line, literally. The government agreed in September last year to meet the 100 per cent salary requirement of the corporation’s employees for the next five years. It would, however, have to meet its operational costs, that is, raise its own revenues. Is this the way out for a public service broadcaster?
Unforgettable will remain the days when serials such as "Hum Log", "Nukkad" coupled with religious mega-epics "Ramayan" and "Mahabharat" kept the audience mesmerised towards Doordarshan. However, over the years the fancy of the masses fell flat and DD faded into oblivion while the sattelite channels have been dominating the small screen with the DD networks were being dubbed as merely the ruling party's mouthpiece. With its mammoth reach among the countrymen, the DD's revival plans are welcome but it will have to shed its pro-establishment tilt, improvise upon its technical qualities and bring in more substantive, meaningful, impartial and worth-watching programme modules lest it again turns into merely a (Congress) "Prachaar Bharti" channel with a re-worked election propaganda.
>> Unforgettable will remain the days when serials such as "Hum Log", "Nukkad"
Nukkad was horrible.
I enjoyed "Hum Log", Buniyaad and "Ye jo hai zindagi" a lot. Mahabharat was good, though I was never a fan of Ramayan. I actually enjoyed "Bharat ek khoj" a lot.
Some others were good too. I liked Khazana, Chunauti, Malgudi Days (particularly Swamy, which was awesome), Some others that I remember enjoying are Karamchand, and some off beat ones like "Kab Tak Pukaroon" and "Muzrim Haazir".
Been a long time since I stopped watching TV though. No idea about new ones, and if any of them are any good. Even amongst the oldies, I'm sure I'm forgetting many I would have enjoyed then.
It seems the DD presenters are supposed to be like normal govt. employees. The other channels have great people too. I mean, Mr. Goswami, Mr. Sardesai, Ms. Dutt, are really great, it appears, people who are in charge of news. In DD, the people aren't known like these heads, and I don't think there are people who come on T. V. on DD, who are identified as very singular, or not. They seem to ask their own questions, and not particularly interesting questions. I was referring to Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha T. V. The DD news Channel is very good, because the other non govt. channels are not what DD is, precisely a govt. service wanting to be a news source. I think, DD is what makes the difference today, and the other channels also put their views across.
Mr Stephen Cohen made the view in his book, 'Emerging Power India', that the people who appear on T. V., such as military, social and commentators on other subjects, are supposed to be why the Indian is well informed. I agree with him, but the same is the case for CNN, also. CNN is the best international news channel, and the BBC is like Doordarshan, but I think DD is better now, than the BBC.
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