Monday, October 8, 2012

Prasar Bharati (DD+AIR) restructuring - Will it become CNN/ Al Jaseera of South Asia?

Prasar Bharati (PB) sounds better than their product - Doordarshan (popular by her short name DD). There was a time, when DD ruled Indian television world, with near complete monopoly.
They had many good programs in those days; mythological series like 'Ramayana', 'Mahabharata', 'Jai Hanuman', 'Aum Namashivaya'; other programs like 'Sindbad', 'Chandrakantha', 'Shakthiman', ‘Jungle Book’, 'Rangoli', 'Chitrahar', 'Turning Point', 'Krishi Darshan' etc (some of them are still there) and of course movies at 9.30pm on Friday and 10.30pm (now shifted to 9.30pm) on Saturday.

Regional Telecasts

DD's regional telecasts were quite popular in those days, after all television was quite new and there were few alternate options. In Kerala, during my school days, there were a festival crowd in front of TV at on Sunday evening to watch regional movies. People even saw the worst movies and ads telecasted in those days.

Not any more

Those days didn't last long, DD slowly but steadily gave her position to newly emerging regional private channels. I must say regional, as I am yet to see the emergence of a national level channel other than Doordarshan.


In many cases they failed to recognise the shift in viewer's interests. By the time they realised this, it was too late and DD look like a camp follower of private channels. In short, not withstanding the entire drum beating DD lost the battle to new generation channels.

Reasons that can be attributed to their failure may be

1. Less amount of time allocated for regional broadcasts.
2. Less coverage for very local news (compared to regional ones).
3. In a way DD was dictating their terms to the people, on what people should see and what not; instead of understanding what people like to see.
4. Failed to change the image over a period of time.

Still good

I still love to watch DD News for current affairs. Here the programs are wider and deeper. You can see issues from North East, South, East, Central, West and North India; from both rural and urban areas; on a wide ranging topics; even though it may be (or may not be) tilted towards government. DD News gives a nice escape for viewers from the over exposure of new generation news channels, which are fully focussed on Delhi and Mumbai; and running 24*7 coverage and discussions on things which may hardly have anything to do with people.

If somebody accused a political leader of corruption, it’s big news, but I certainly don’t want to see it 24*7. There are hundreds of other topics to cover. I am not saying DD is covering all important issues, especially issues which make the government uncomfortable but it is still faring better than new generation news channels.

'Peepli Live' may be an exaggerated version of television reporting, but not to the extent that it is unbelievable. I still remember a scene from that movie, where a local reporter wants to report the death of a farmer who used to buy the land, dig wells and then sell it. In the name of concluding the main theme for the movie to logical end senior reporter discourages it.

PrasarBharati restructuring

Let’s take a look at the important terms in Prasar Bharati restructuring scheme,

1. From 2012-13 to 2016-17, central government will cover all the salary and salary related expenses of PB (however they have to cover annual operation budget which may go up to 2000 crores from internal incomes).
2. Plan capital support for PB from government will be in the forms of Grands-in-aid not loans.
3. Government decided to waive off all accumulated interests on loan-in-perpetuity, interest on capital loans, and penal interests.
4. Loan-in-perpetuity and capital loans already provided to PB will be converted to Grands-in-aid.
5. Accumulated arrears in space segment and spectrum charges up to March 31, 2011 (1349.4 crores) will be waived off.
6. Property and assets will be transferred to PB.

This will certainly clean PB’s book. According to ‘The Hindu’ report, the process of waiving loans, interests, and fines will cost the exchequer around 12,071 crores.


However, DD has the capability to become the mouth piece of South Asia; like what 'Al Jaseera' is for Qatar or 'CNN' for USA or 'BBC' for UK. The earlier PB Board understand this, the better. After current restructuring this should be the aim of PB. They should cultivate DD (as well as AIR) as a reliable and prime source of information for South Asia; in the long run for Asia as a whole. Just look at Qatar and see how they are punching very much above their weight because of companies like Al Jaseera.

By creating a reliable, far-reaching media group, Prasar Bharati can do a lot more for South Asians in general and for Indians in particular.



1. Ministry of I & B, Government of India.
2. The Hindu.
Photo Courtesy: Broadcasting Corporation of India

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