The I&B ministry’s bid to curb the freedom of expression of private news channels through changes in the Cable Television Regulation Rules, is a clear admission that, for all its trumpeted reach, state owned Doordarshan cannot really match the private channels’ influence.
Or else why not use Doordarshan to counter the private channels’ alleged excesses?
Taken together, cable and satellite television channels now reach 57 per cent of all people owning television sets. Doordarshan reaches 100 per cent of them. But the problem is that those who get private channels do not care to watch Doordarshan at all.
It is testimony to the decline of Doordarshan’s quality – the same channel that provided trail blazing serials like Tamas and Bharat Ek Khoj in the 1980s. While private broadcasters have consistently tried to innovate, all Doordarshan does is belatedly copy them.
“Quality has been the biggest casualty at Doordarshan,” said a senior television producer.
Doordarshan employees primarily blame government interference. Doordarshan is an autonomous institution only on paper. “We have to cover and broadcast all government functions, however boring, which private channels don’t have to,” said a senior Doordarshan official, requesting anonymity. “How can we compete when there is no level playing field?”
The government would do well to try and improve Doordarshan, on which it spends around Rs 900 crore each year, instead of trying to control its privately owned competitors.
“We have a lot of talented young people who can wonders for the institution,” said, B S Lalli, Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharati Corporation, which runs Doordarshan and All India Radio.
Private news channels do go overboard at times. Self-restraint by the channels too is not as easily enforced as it sounds. Only 31 of the country 197 news channels have joined the News Broadcasters’ Association, that has notified a code of self regulation.
But if Doordarshan had provided a model alternative, self regulation could have more easily achieved.