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To Show Or Not To Show: Doordarshan’s Major Controversies

Often DD has had to face allegations of becoming the mouthpiece of the government of the day, when it is supposed to be the voice of the country and not of political parties in power.

DD continues to be a source of authentic information but its legitimacy and reputation has eroded over the years.
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India’s public service broadcaster Doordarshan, according to official sources, has over 45 million free DTH connections across India. It is also in the final stages of launching its own OTT platform to dish out its iconic programmes, giving them a new lease on life.

It was once the sole source of authentic information about India. While it still continues to be one, the legitimacy and reputation has eroded over the years.

Often DD has had to face allegations of becoming the mouthpiece of the government of the day, when it is supposed to be the voice of the country and not of political parties in power.

Here are a few major controversies surrounding DD over the decades:

1. Emergency: In June 1975, during the Indira Gandhi regime, Article 352 of the Indian Constitution was invoked and state of Emergency was declared in the country. Citizens were stripped of their rights including the fundamental rights. There was a wide and strong resistance to emergency amidst state aggressive repression. During this time public broadcasting machinery including DD was accused of running government propaganda, while the rest of the media was put under censorship.

In June 1976, reportedly, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) had approached artists of Hindi Cinema (a.k.a. Bollywood) to put a positive spin to the narrative. According to reports, yesteryears’ actor and singer Kishore Kumar who enjoyed a huge fan following, when he refused to meet with MIB team, his movies and songs were banned from public broadcasting mediums including DD.

2. ‘Bobby’ Distraction of 1977: In 1977, after the emergency was lifted, Jayprakash Narayan or JP and other opposition leaders were to hold a rally at New Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. The Indira Gandhi’s government had denied permission for the rally but to further ensure the rally doesn’t see mass participation by common people, Doordarshan wad made to telecast, the then blockbuster movie Bobby.

3. Operation Blue Star, 1984: Doordarshan was under fire for its ‘biased’ coverage of Operation Blue Star, the name of the Indian Armed Forces operation to remove militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. There were allegations that DD’s reports were only based on government information.

4. Anti-Sikh Riots of 1984: After the assassination of India Gandhi, DD documented the funeral; obituaries etc. as well as it could have back in the day when technology was not as advance. But it, reportedly, did not cover the carnage that followed. The anti-Sikh riots in some parts of the country, but mainly in New Delhi were not reported by the public broadcaster. 

There are also allegations on DD of telecasting, a Bollywood superstar of the time, instigating people to take ‘revenge’ of PM Gandhi’s killing at the hands of her security guards, who were Sikh.

5. Ramayana Telecast, 1987: In January that year, first episode of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana was aired on DD. The viewership of the shoe was reportedly in millions. In the backdrop of the Ram Mandir Movement, the show is said to have helped bend the public opinion in its favour.   

6. Mohan Bhagwat Speech Telecast, 2014: DD telecasted the complete 70-minute speech of the Rashatriya Swayam Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, which was delivered on the occasion of Vijaydashami. The public broadcaster was criticised for televising the full speech of an individual who does not occupy any public office. Notably, this was after Narendra Modi was sworn-in as prime minister the first time.

7. The Kerala Story Telecast, 2024: DD is again in controversy for airing the controversial film, The Kerala Story, on April 5. The film deals with contentious topics like love jihad, forceful religious conversion and alleged recruitments for terrorist organisations in the southern state. The film has been termed as ‘propaganda’ by many. The timing of this telecast was also questioned for being so close to the Lok Sabha elections 2024.

8. Saffron Logo: The latest controversy in which the channel has landed, is regarding the sudden change of its logo colour. On April 16, DD revealed its new logo and it looks suspiciously akin to the ruling party’s flag colour.

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