Media Torture

It is such a torture these days to watch the TV. There is not even one TV channel that offers any positive news or constructive views. There is so much negativity on air that the airwaves seem to spread audio-visual flu. It causes the eyes and ears to ache and the mind to suffer a strange kind of SARS syndrome. There may not be all the words, expressions, idioms and vituperative adjectives in a single dictionary that are being used by contesting candidates, their supporters, sympathisers and journalists. The tone, tenor, expressions, gestures and non-verbal communications of the anchors, guests and other participants add venom to the heavily polluted atmosphere. Out of sheer disgust and to keep the blood pressure normal, one moves from news channels to entertainment. It only enhances the frustration. How many times one can see the same movies: 10, 20 or 50 times?  All third grade movies are thrust upon the hapless consumers, at times twice a day. Even English movies are endlessly repeated. Hardly any creative products, any inspiring programmes are telecast. It comes at a monthly payment of around 300 rupees. This contrasts with the Doordarshan, which used to charge a meagre rupees 50 a year.

What had happened to Doordarshan? Nobody likes to watch it. Rather it has been deliberately damaged to the extent where it is today. This is a very funny model of promotion of private investment in economic activities in the country. In a nutshell, it aims to vacate the areas of activity where the government has invested heavily in infrastructure, machinery, manpower and working capital. These are profitable activities of the public sector enterprises. They are the biggest CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) of the biggest corporation of the country i.e. the government. Compare it with the “sick” or non-working public sector enterprises and the picture would be crystal clear. The profit making activity is unethically transferred to the private hands, which reap all the benefits at no cost or liability. The public sector is struck sick, inefficient and loss making. It has happened in several sectors of the economy. I pick up only one example- that of the national television called the Doordarshan. If some creative artist is in a dour mood, the very admiration of some programme of DD (Doordarshan) is enough to lift his spirits! But that was not the case before it was converted into the Prasar Bharati(PB). If the charge against the Congress and the BJP acting in tandem can be correct in some case, perhaps the PB would qualify for it prominently. DD and the AIR (All India Radio or Akashvani) are owners of one of the richest treasures of audio-visual property of the highest quality in India. They have given the audiences some of the very best products in quality entertainment, be it music, poetry, plays, dance, drama, discussions, talks, debates, documentaries or anything to entertain and educate. Programmes for all kinds of people- old, young, children, women, urban, rural, educated, illiterate, labour, farmer, elite, professionals were produced and aired by the two till they started suffering assault from pindaries of the media who smelt profitable business emerging in media. Quality started suffering when commissioning of programmes to outsourced producers entered the preserve of the government. In fact journalists with political clout started getting appointed to senior positions in the PB, influencing policies and decision making. These journalists were alternating between the private channels and government organisations. The private channels had to prove their quality superior, which they did by not upgrading programme quality but by destroying DD & AIR programme quality. Viewer loyalty was bound to suffer and it did. People stopped subscribing to DD.

When some economic activity becomes highly profitable, politicians are the first to grab it (as in getting petrol pumps or cooking gas agency allotted to themselves or their family members). Television and radio are great levers of influencing public opinion for votes. So the politician lost little time in owning fully or partially one of the more than 400 TV channels functioning in the country. 1:400 is too much of an unequal fight. So what was available for just 50 rupees annually started costing more than 3600. Once air waves have been monopolized, the consumer has no choice excepting what is dished out by the monopolists!

The result is torture, more torture and still more torture due to elections for more than 15 long months till the new government settles down comfortably. An unstable government will only lengthen this torture. How else can a TV channel explain telecasting WWF early in the morning at 0600 hours, showing skin of scantily(heavily?) dressed models selling fashion wear at prayer time in the morning or horror movie to start the day? DD & AIR had a sense of the timing. They would synchronize the content and time of the day or night for maximum benefit of the audiences. It is a science, no silly marketing gimmick. One has to have a sense of the aesthetic principles to determine scientifically the time, day, season(Ritu) etc. for the performance. Entertainment is culture, soft power and a mood enhancing experience in that context. It is not selling chips, skirts, lotions, talisman, creams and drugs from zero hour to zero hour 24×7. Any government that can promise to restore to DD & AIR their freedom to produce high quality programmes and use all the treasure to provide quality viewing and listening to the people will be entitled to claim credit for good governance. It will save the people the torture being inflicted on them by private monopolies, which have formed cartels against consumer interests and have dodged the radar of the CCI (Competition Commission of India) so far. Senior citizens deserve their share of entertainment and information along with all others.

DD and AIR can earn the same reputation in matters of news among Indian viewers as is presently enjoyed by the BBC, CNN and even Al Jazeera. It is a matter of free, frank, objective and neutral news dissemination, which the country professing the motto of Satyamev Jayate or Truth Triumphs should find rather easier to do than many others.


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