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Pushing frontiers

Print edition : Jun 16, 2006




Prasar Bharati, through its two wings Akashvani and Doordarshan, has fulfilled its objective of providing a fair coverage of events.

A SCRIBE once described the essential difference between two eras in post-Independence India thus: In the Indira Gandhi era you could see a farmer ploughing his field while enjoying music from All India Radio (AIR) through a transistor radio suspended from a horn of the ox. In the Rajiv Gandhi era, the farmer would be sitting under a tree watching television while a robot got the bullocks to plough the farm.

The difference highlights the essential story of the expansion of two mediums, the audio and the visual, under Prasar Bharati, India's broadcasting corporation. Its two wings are Akashvani, the audio channel, and Doordarshan, the visual channel.

Prasar Bharati came into existence on November 23, 1997, with a mandate to organise and conduct public broadcasting service to inform, educate and entertain the public and to ensure a balanced development of broadcasting on radio and television.

It was set up with eight clearly defined objectives:

1. Upholding the unity and integrity of the country and the values enshrined in the Constitution.

2. Promoting national integration.

3. Safeguarding citizens' rights to be informed on all matters of public interest and presenting a fair and balanced flow of information.

4. Paying special attention to the fields of education and spread of literacy, agriculture, rural development, environment, health and family welfare and science and technology.

5. Creating awareness about women's issues and taking special steps to protect the interests of children, the aged and other vulnerable sections of society.

6. Providing adequate coverage to the diverse cultures, sports and games, and youth affairs.

7. Promoting social justice, safeguarding the rights of working classes, minorities and tribal communities.

8. Expanding broadcasting facilities and promoting research and development in broadcast technology.

The expansion of both mediums has been phenomenal after they were transferred from the government department to the corporation. In a large measure, the corporation has achieved its main objectives under a dynamic management, despite the different ideologies of the regimes since 1997. The management has made conscious attempts to steer clear of political controversies and provide a fair coverage of events. The Prasar Bharati is bound by the social obligations that come with its responsibilities. It has a special assignment defined by the Act that was passed by Parliament in 1990, seven years before the corporation came into existence.

The Prasar Bharati Board ensures that the broad policies of the organisation are followed and that the mandate of the Prasar Bharati Act of 1990 is fulfilled. All important policy matters relating to finance, administration and personnel are submitted to the Chief Executive Officer and the Board. It has not been a smooth sail, but the management has not been involved in any major controversies. Resources were used well, and so were the freedoms granted to both AIR and Doordarshan so that there was no interference in the daily functioning of the two mediums.

A television team arrived in Gandhinagar in August 1987 with a view to covering the relief operations in Gujarat, which was reeling under a severe drought. The team hired a cab and the team leader asked the driver when they should start their tour the following morning, which was a Sunday. "Five minutes to ten, sir," came the decisive reply.

The team started at the appointed time. The driver covered 105 kilometres in 90 minutes and then brought down the average speed to 50 km an hour. On the way the team did not come across any other vehicle; there was no human being in sight on the deserted road. Why? "Everyone is glued to the television set to watch Mahahbharat," the driver told the team.

No serial on any channel has probably had the kind of dedicated viewership that the serialised epic enjoyed on Doordarshan.

Doordarshan continues to be a favourite channel in many homes in this age of cable television. Its network has expanded, giving adequate attention to regional interests. Doordarshan's broadcast of Parliament proceedings has generated mixed reactions, but the Speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha has enthusiastically supported and encouraged Doordarshan to have a 24-hour news channel devoted to Parliament.

Now Doordarshan has four national channels - DD National, DD News, DD Sports and DD Bharati. It has two Parliament channels - DD Rajya Sabha and DD Lok Sabha. Its international channel is called DD India. It has 11 regional language satellite channels and State networks covering Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

DD National devotes more than 40 per cent of its time to programmes produced and commissioned in-house, and more than 35 per cent on sponsored programmes. Only 23 per cent of its time is devoted to acquired programmes such as films and educational programmes.

But time distribution varies drastically on DD regional channels; in-house and commissioned programmes take away more than 60 per cent of the time and sponsored programmes less than 30 per cent.

Doordarshan launched its international channel on March 14, 1995. The channel was renamed DD India in 2002. The programmes offer international viewers an update on the Indian social, cultural, political and economic scene. The channel aims at building bridges with Indians living abroad and showcasing the cultures and traditions of India as well as its modernity and diversity. It carries news bulletins, features on topical events, entertainment programmes, feature films, music and dance programmes. Uplinked from Delhi, the channel can be viewed in 146 countries.

Doordarshan entered a new era of satellite broadcasting when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched the DD Direct Plus DTH service on December 16, 2004. DD Direct Plus is India's first Free DTH service offering 33 TV channels and 12 radio channels. It is also known as Ku Band transmission.

For several years, Doordarshan's advertisement revenues have remained above Rs.500 crores. This is despite the fact that the organisation has always refused to compromise on its code of ethics while accepting advertisements.

No broadcasting service has undergone the kind of image transition that AIR has been through in its over 80 years of existence. Nor has any broadcasting service expanded so widely.

The tonga (horse-driven cart) was the most common means of transportation in Delhi when India attained independence in August 1947. If you wanted to come to All India Radio on Parliament Street, if you asked the tongawala to take you to the All India Radio building, he would probably not understand you; you would have to ask him to take you to mujarewali lal kothi (the house of musical programmes).

The building got that name because only courtesans from Kashmiri Gate were willing to perform for AIR in its initial days. For the tongawalas who drove them over, the AIR building became mujarewali lal kothi. The more `respectable' singers were wary of the new medium and would perform only when royal families and rich patrons invited them, explained senior journalist K.P. Srivastava. It took a decade for AIR to establish its respectability.

Radio broadcasting had begun in the early 1920s. The first programme was broadcast in 1923 by the Radio Club of Bombay (now Mumbai).

This was followed by the formation of a Broadcasting Service that began airing on July 23, 1927, on an experimental basis in Bombay and Calcutta (now Kolkata), under an agreement between the Government of India and a private company called the Indian Broadcasting Company Ltd. But this company went into liquidation in less than three years.

The government constituted the Indian State Broadcasting Service under the department of "Controller of Broadcasts" in 1930. It was renamed All India Radio, which was then renamed Akashvani in 1956.

At the time of Independence, there was electricity only in a few places outside the metros and the big cities. Battery-operated radio sets were not in vogue then, so radio coverage was limited. Today, AIR has 215 stations and 337 transmitters. Its coverage is as high as 91.42 per cent of the area and 99.13 per cent of the population.

Until the 1970s, people in the northeastern had easy access to the radio networks of China, but not to AIR. There was a time when Radio Goa and Radio Ceylon were more popular than AIR. You could hear Radio Ceylon playing from 6 a.m. in small hotels in district towns trying to attract the morning crowds. AIR, however, never had to look back after it launched Vividh Bharati in October 1957. Its main ingredient was film music. It started accepting commercials in November 1967, but by that time it had a dedicated audience and successfully competed with the foreign radio networks in popularity.

Today AIR broadcasts in 24 languages and 146 dialects, including from the northeastern States. In external services, AIR covers 27 languages, including 16 foreign languages. It also operates on various frequencies such as medium wave, short wave and FM. This year AIR has awarded leases to several large companies to operate FM services in various States.

AIR struck gold when it launched FM II in September 2001. The channel is on air for 18 hours a day. It was renamed AIR FM Gold because of its popularity with the younger generation. The success encouraged AIR to expand the network through private initiative.

In 1988, National Channel was started, essentially as a night service to entertain factory workers, farmers, drivers, soldiers and students. In 2004, Vividh Bharati service was introduced in night transmission on the National Channel.

As an electronic ambassador, the External Services Division (ESD) of AIR became a vital link between India and the rest of the world, especially in countries with Indian migrants.

Today, it ranks high among the External Radio networks of the world in reach and range, covering 100 countries.



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