Before the entry of private television in India, Sarita Vihar-based Dev Anand and his family were hooked to Doordarshan. For them and many other Indians, including Okhla residents, DD was window to the outside world and the only visual entertainment source.
But things started changing with the private channels establishing themselves by running quality shows. An Indian public service broadcaster and a division of Prasar Bharati, DD, had hard times to keep pace with the development and hence many of its die-hard viewers deserted it. The situation came to such a passé that the young generation in metropolitan cities have no idea about DD that was once known for its soaps like Hum Log, Buniyaad and Fauji – to name only a few in the long list.
All is not lost for DD.
Gaining lost glory
Chances of DD gaining its old lost glory is high after reports surfaced that the government is ready to pump Rs 142 crore to revamp content for six Doordarshan channels.
The news about funding has made Dev and many other DD enthusiasts delighted. “I still remember those good old days when we used to sit together to watch Chitrahaar (weekly presentation of old melodious songs) on DD. But later we moved to private channels as we realized that they were providing better and high-quality programmes,” says Dev, who lives with his mother and two brothers in New Delhi’s posh Sarita Vihar colony.
Revival of DD-Urdu
Under the new project the government has set a goal to revive DD-Urdu that has a captive viewer-ship cross India and in SAARC countries. New programmes will be introduced so as to attract more viewers. Moreover, the Prasar Bharati’s proposal to overhaul the new content for DD- Urdu and other regional language satellite channels like DD-Oriya, DD-India, DD-Bharati, DD-News and DD-Archives has already been endorsed by the I&B ministry.
The steps were only taken after officials realised the potential of regional language channels, particularly DD-Urdu.
Reaching South Asian neighbourhood
Also, efforts are on to reach the South Asian neighbourhood and Indian Diaspora in West Asia and other European countries through these channels. In its first move, plans are afoot to overhaul the DD-Urdu that currently is being run with repeat Urdu programmes mostly acquired in 2007 and 2008. “There is urgent need to replace the repeat programmes to sustain channel viewership. The channel will require fresh software at least 14 hours per day, including one Urdu feature film,” says a senior official.
Some employees working with one of the largest broadcasting organizations in India for long strongly feel that some 11 regional language satellite channels have suffered over the years and they are DD-Gujarati, DD-Punjabi, DD-Kashmir, DD-North East, DD-Bangla, DD-Oriya, DD-Malayalam, Saptagiri (Telugu), Podhigai (Tamil), Chandana (Kannada) and Sahayadri (Marathi).
Making all these channels a hit won’t be a cakewalk.
The general consensus among critics is that if DD is to survive in a cut-throat competitive media industry and compete with private channels then it has to reinvent itself as a public broadcaster. For this to happen it has to pay more attention to programmes’ quality. But the big question is: Can the state-run and government regulated DD become number one choice for viewers?
Not so positive
Former Financial Express editor Shantanu Saika is not so positive. He says: “The basic disadvantage with DD is that it is owned by the state. But this is not a problem in many European countries like Italy and England. State-run channels are extremely popular in Italy and even BBC that is run by license fees and a broad public service remit has huge viewer-ship. In India the problem is that a state-run channel has to toe down government’s line. Other than this, there is no quality because of rampant corruption. The quality of manpower is extremely poor.”
Saika, a veteran journalist, adds: “The work culture is not there. I doubt whether DD can become a hit as it has not got the necessary component.”
DD Vs BBC
Despite having a global reach, DD has failed to cultivate captive viewers. Like the UK-based BBC, the DD also targets audiences worldwide through the Indian Network and Radio India. Also, it offers television, radio, online and mobile services throughout metropolitan and regional India. But still it is not very popular. Other major reason for its limited popularity is it works like a government department with strong hierarchy. In remote areas the situation is bad with journalists approaching high government officials to run anti-government news.
The perception among the viewers is that DD is for the state and by the state. With such a huge workforce and penetration any other channel could have easily been at the top, but DD has failed to win the hearts and minds of viewers.
Waste of money?
DD-India, the state broadcaster's international channel, is also not in good shape.
Uplink from New Delhi and expected to be watched in 146 countries through satellites it has been hit hard by red-tape and officials lethargy. That is why many experts are of the opinion that pumping of more funds would be waste of money. Skeptics point out that this is not for the first time that the government has got into action to revamp DD. Earlier efforts have failed to yield positive results. Will the money go into the drain?
Former news editor of DD, Hamid Hussein, is optimistic that this time things will improve. He says: “It is a welcome move. If the government doesn’t do anything then the huge empire and resource that DD has will collapse.”
Hussein, whose loyalty towards the organization is understood, is all praise for the DD.
Business or Professionalism
He says private channels cannot compete with DD’s resource. “Its coverage is huge. A little bit tinkering with the infrastructure like revamping the content will make a lot of change. DD will become popular as it makes programme in public interest whereas private channels are only doing business. They are not bothered about cultural and classical programmes. The culture is being promoted by DD as it has social responsibilities,” he adds.
Professor and former head of development communication of Jamia Millia Islamia’s reputed Mass Communication Research Centre, Shahid Jamal, concurs with Hussein. The problem, however, with the DD, he says, is that it has never been competitive.
“If somebody has a political will they can run DD into a profitable business. Enough revenue can be generated from programmes because of the existing huge infrastructure,” he says. Jamal has a suggestion for DD officials and the government and it is that they should concentrate on cultural and classical programmes that are being neglected by private television channels.
All told, DD still continues to struggle to win credibility and it is a long way to go to catch up with BBC and other state-run European channels. Can Rs 142 crore be the turning point for this humongous organisation?
Photo via en.wikipedia.org