Rentier Broadcasters

Satelites Over South Asia:Brodcasting Culture And Public Interest
By David Page By William Crawley
sage Pages:455;Rs 250(PaperBack)
DID you know that Doordarshan, the much-reviled state broadcaster run by dull mandarins, boasts of the top 20 prime-time shows in India these days? At least, that is what the ratings mapping viewing trends in 29 million television homes in India would have us believe. DD's recipe for survival is simple: 'auction' its prime-time slots to private programme makers, who make the hits for them. So India's public broadcaster has become a rentier, selling space to private programmes, rather than making quality programmes. It's a sad epitaph for India's public service broadcasting. This confirms the worst fears of the authors in this well-researched book. The prairie fires of satellite television in South Asia have had both good and bad results. But does it make sense to leave broadcasting entirely to market forces in a state where as many as 40 per cent of the people are poor? The authors argue that the nation-state needs to play a greater role as a regulator to ensure that the public interest is safeguarded in the new media environment. They are dismayed by the fact that public broadcasters like DD have been divesting themselves of their responsibility and "allowing the terms of competition to be set by private channels". Isn't this just another example of the ineffectual state abdicating its basic responsibilities to the citizens in post-reforms India? To be sure, public service broadcasting is at the crossroads all over the world. In Britain, the annual flat tax of over a hundred pounds imposed on the citizenry to fund the bbc hits the poor. So what's the way out to keep a public service broadcaster alive and kicking? Replicating the model of Britain's 18-year-old £2 billion worth Channel 4, a public service operation which is allowed to advertise and plough back its profits into programming? Or a one-time tax on TV sets at the time of purchase to fund public interest programmes? Or simply reforming the notoriously corrupt and overmanned DD? The answer probably lies in a combination of all three. But India doesn't seem to be interested: first it throttled its radio, now it's killing state television. Who cares about public interest anyway?
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