Do you remember what things were like in the bad old days when we only had AIR and Doordarshan and no private radio or TV channels? If you have forgotten, then it’s easy to get a taste of the way things were in that far-away era.
All you need to do is watch Doordarshan’s coverage of the Beijing Olympics (DD Sports).
In theory, there should be no problem with the coverage because DD’s cameramen and technicians have not been allowed anywhere near Beijing. All that the DD babus need to do is to root a foreign feed through their own transmitters. And as the foreign feed has been shot by professionals, it is of a high quality.
But of course, Doordarshan has never come across an event that it can’t screw up. And so, DD’s Olympic coverage is dismal.
The problems are the familiar DD malaises. The Chinese do not sit around in the morning sipping cups of jasmine tea and decide randomly which event they will schedule for the day. These things are fixed months in advance and everybody knows what is planned.
Everybody, except DD that is. One of the more remarkable features of DD’s coverage has been its completely clueless nature. Nobody seems to know what is scheduled in Beijing and coverage is conducted in an entirely random manner. Logic suggests that any TV station should concentrate on medal events rather than preliminaries. But even when a medal event in some sport is taking place, DD prefers to show us preliminaries in another sport. Then, it is clear that there are some real newsmakers at these games including, for instance, the American swimmer Michael Phelps. In most of the world, TV coverage is Phelps-centric. But DD’s world is different. Sometimes we’ll see an event where he wins the gold. Sometimes we won’t. And sometimes we may see it long after it happened, a bizarre state of affairs that is offering live coverage. It is not that DD has it in for Phelps; more that nobody could be bothered to plan the coverage in a manner that interests viewers. All scheduling is random, as if a monkey had been let loose in the control room. You’ll get two minutes of volleyball, and then, a sudden shift to a swimming preliminary before we move to women’s hockey. Nobody knows what to expect: not even DD’s anchors who keep saying “Let’s go to..” only to find that the feed is not there.
Most inexplicable is the coverage of events where Indians are taking part. We may see them live, we may miss part of each event, we may see the wrong bits – nobody knows. Basically, you put on your TV and hope for the best.
If this was a private channel, scores of people would have lost their jobs by now. But in DD, there is no accountability, so life will go on.
The other big story, apart from the Olympics, these days, is Kashmir. The news channels cover it in a desultory fashion, featuring endless discussions where people shout at each other and anchors watch helplessly. No channel bothers to explain what’s really going on. And certainly, none of these Kashmir specialists on TV think it worth their while to explain how things deteriorated so spectacularly and so dramatically. Just weeks ago they were all telling us that normalcy had returned to Kashmir.
It is customary to say that there are no winners in Kashmir but I think I have found one. Amar Singh has the Kashmir imbroglio to thank for the general lack of interest in the Cash For Votes sting. When CNN IBN finally telecast its undercover operation, public attention had wandered so completely and settled on other issues that nobody seemed to care too much what the tapes showed. For the record however, I have to say that while they do suggest that explanations are called for, they do not provide anything like the conclusive proof that the BJP had told us to expect.