Abstract: The paper traces the journey of television in India which started for promoting development and serving the cause of the poor and the underprivileged. While some efforts were made to fulfil these brave goals, television also earned the unholy reputation of being a vehicle for government propaganda. Doordarshan – the public service broadcaster was the only available terrestrial network till 1991 when transnational satellite television channels began to make forays into the country. Soon Indian players entered the television industry thereby leading to enormous expansion. Since then, the very nature of Indian broadcasting has changed.
Television has transformed from a medium devoted to development communication and the cause of the marginalised, to a true middle-class medium. Contemporary Indian television is divorced from the realities of the ‘other half of India that lives in abject poverty and deprivation, thus presenting a distorted view of social reality. This paper seeks to examine these and other related issues, and make some suggestions for policy initiatives to put the development agenda back on television.
Keywords: Indian television, Doordarshan, television and development communication, public service broadcasting, commercialisation of Indian television, broadcast regulation 1
Out of the different mass media such as newspapers, radio, television, internet among others, the one introduced in the country with the aim of promoting development was television. Television began in India in 1959 as an educational project supported by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Ford Foundation. Television was based on the model of a public broadcasting system prevalent in many countries of Europe. In independent India, the political leaders recognised the value of information and its use for accelerating the process of development. Thus was started a model of public broadcasting committed to inform, educate and entertain the people.
The then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru decided to have full government control over broadcasting for the time being. In retrospect, many observers feel that it was the hangover of the colonial legacy of controlling the media and fears about the power of the mass media to inflame social conflicts that prevented Indian policy makers from thinking creatively about radio and television in the country (Agrawal and Raghaviah, 2006; Jeffrey, 2006).
In the decades since 1959, vast changes took place in the television landscape of India. In its early years, apart from being used as an educational tool, television was also misused as a mouthpiece for the central government and the party in power. Programming was primarily in Hindi and much of the news and current affairs focussed on Delhi – the seat of political power (Johnson, 2000; Singhal and Rogers, 2001). Thus, while television was entrusted with the brave goal of promoting national integration, the same medium was found to reinforce a sense of alienation in many parts of the country particularly in the north-eastern states (Joshi, 1985; Ninan, 1995; Page and Crawley, 2001).
Despite being the world leader in experimenting with television and satellite technology, India failed to capitalise on the lessons learnt from early development communication projects such as the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) and the much acclaimed Kheda Communication Project (Singhal and Rogers, 2001).
Contemporary Indian television is criticised by many for having shifted from its humanitarian goals and becoming a medium for the urban middle class. It is this class which owns and operate most of the television industry in India. It is the same class which is transmitting its own values, principles, and opinions to the rest of India (Johnson, 2000). Consequently, the cause of the poor, underprivileged people for whose development the medium was brought to the country has suffered a setback.
Changes in the television system did not occur in India alone. There was a worldwide trend during the 1980s towards the commercialisation of television. Herman and Mc Chesney (2001) argue that during this decade the policies of deregulation and privatisation were applied to national broadcasting and telecommunication systems that were traditionally regulated and often publicly owned and operated. This had a detrimental impact on public service programs which were replaced with more and more entertainment programming.
The subsequent sections in the paper examine the divergence between the rhetoric of television for development and actual practice. Some of the ground-breaking initiatives in development communication using television are also captured. Before that, it becomes essential to dwell on the concept of development communication and the role of media is social change.
Role of Media in Development It is important at this point to clarify the meaning of „development communication‟ for the term has a wide variety of connotations. Development communication is more than agricultural extension or rural communication. It doesn‟t restrict itself merely to the development of rural areas, nor is it concerned with agricultural development alone. It is oriented towards development whether it be in rural or urban areas, or in areas such as agriculture, family planning, or nutrition (Gupta, 1995).
Theory and research suggests that mass communication can act as a positive agent of social change for some people while impeding and obstructing change for others (Johnson, 2000). There are many who dispute the role played by the mass media in bringing about social change (Gupta, 1995; Rodrigues, 2010; Vilanilam, 2005). Gupta (1995) asserts that radio and television are the best sources for creating awareness and interest among the audience regarding a new message or idea “but when it comes to adoption of the idea, interpersonal sources such as extension agents, friends, neighbours, family members are the most effective” (Gupta, 1995, p.72).
In the 1960s, communication scholars and media experts were quite sure that television and the other media of mass communication would help national development. The media were considered the prime motivators of development. Eminent communication scholars such as Daniel Lerner, Wilbur Schramm and Everett M. Rogers, who based their theories of development and media efficacy on the important work of Walter Rostow, namely, The Stages of Economic Growth, stressed that the economic and technological development achieved by the Western nations were the result of increased media use (Vilanilam, 2005).
However, since the 1970s the dominant paradigms of development have been challenged by different disciplines (Gupta, 1995; Vilanilam, 2005). It has been realised that distribution of goods and services along with economic and political opportunities among the majority is a pre-requisite for development. An information revolution ushered into a largely private society without appropriate changes in the social structure will not benefit the large majority of the people (Vilanilam, 2005).
Everett M. Rogers and many other theorists criticised the dominant paradigm of development (as cited in Rodrigues, 2010) and broadened its definition from one that centred on materialistic economic growth to other social values such as social advancement. The concept of development in the 1970s was expanded as a widely participatory process of social change in a society, intended to bring about both social and material advancement, including greater equality, freedom, and other valued qualities, for the majority of the people by giving them greater control over their environment.
Similarly, the new concept of development communication that began to emerge dealt with the promotion of social change leading to improvement in people‟s quality of living, by encouraging better health, higher literacy and higher production of goods through more effective communication (Rodrigues, 2010).
There was also a tendency in communication theory and practice to regard the television audience as passive beings moulded and manipulated by those who create the media messages (Johnson, 2000). Many development communication campaigns suffered on this count. However, it is increasingly being realised that for such messages to be effective, people must be involved at all stages – planning, production, and presentation. The need for localisation of development communication has been emphasised by many researchers and commentators (Joshi, 1985; Page and Crawley, 2001; Singhal and Rogers, 2001; Verghese, 1978).
The Beginning of Television in India: In the name of Development
When television was introduced in the country in 1959, it started as an experiment in social communication for which small teleclubs were organised in Delhi and provided with community television sets. Educational television began in 1961 to support middle and higher secondary school education. Its experiments in teaching of science, mathematics, and language proved successful and received appreciation from many UNESCO experts (Kumar, 2000).
A few years later telecasts for farmers began in the form of Krishi Darshan. It was telecast on Wednesdays and Fridays for 20 minutes each day and served 80 villages (around Delhi) provided with community television sets. This pilot project was initiated by the Department of Atomic Energy in collaboration with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, All India Radio, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and the Delhi Administration (Kumar, 2000). Vikram Sarabhai, the architect of India‟s satellite communication experiments, in 1969 presented a paper entitled “Television for Development” at the Society for International Development Conference in New Delhi. The idea that the backward countries can and should tap the most advanced communication technologies including television for leapfrogging into rapid economic growth and social transformation was first presented here (Joshi, 1985).
Indian television in its infancy was managed by All India Radio. In 1976, television was separated from radio and given a new name – Doordarshan. This adjunct arrangement is seen by some commentators as an impediment to the natural development of television in its initial years (Page and Crawley, 2001). The public service broadcaster – Doordarshan has been used over the years to deliver a number of useful messages. These include messages on family planning, immunization, nutrition of the mother and the child, the need to stem bias against the girl child, among others.
Experience suggests that some communication campaigns have worked better than others. A key reason for the failure of many development communication campaigns was the lack of co-ordination with field level agencies (Ninan, 1995; Singhal and Rogers, 2001). Ninan (1995) explains just why the family planning message, the mainstay of development communication messages on television, failed to work. She attributes the failure to the inability of state agencies to provide back-up facilities in rural areas that were required to make the campaign successful.
On the other hand, certain messages conveyed through television have worked well. Notable in this category are the health, hygiene, sanitation, and oral rehydration messages which people have adopted to a large extent (Ninan, 1995).
Educational Television is another area in which Doordarshan has made significant contribution. Ever since the inception of television in India in 1959, one major responsibility entrusted to it is to provide support for the education system in the country. School television (STV) was launched in October 1961 as an organised, systematic and sequential support to formal school instruction. Teachers appreciated STV as a tool for teaching and presentation of content (Kumar, 2000).
The country-wide classroom initiative of the University Grants Commission dedicated to higher education started its telecast on Doordarshan in 1984 with one-hour educational programmes. Though the urban youth may not even be aware of such programmes, these were found to be very useful in the small towns and remote areas of the country where people had less access to other sources of information (Ninan, 1995). In order to boost educational telecasts, a satellite channel devoted exclusively to education Gyandarshan was launched in 2000 in collaboration with the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Indira Gandhi National Open University.
Gyandarshan offers interesting and informative programmes of relevance to special categories – pre-school kids, primary and secondary school children, college and university students, youth seeking career opportunities, housewives, adults, and many others. In addition to educational fare, programmes from abroad are also broadcast to offer viewers a window to the world (Agrawal and Raghaviah, 2006).
For three decades ever since the inception of television, the dominant theme was communication for development so as to improve the quality of life for the vast rural majority. The logic was that in an underdeveloped, largely rural country; television could be used to convey messages on agricultural improvement, health care, and family planning to millions of people without depending on the extension infrastructure such a task would normally require. But the irony was that none of this was done imaginatively or consistently (Ninan, 1995).
Commenting on the weaknesses of India‟s educational and instructional broadcasts, the Verghese Committee set up in 1977 to suggest an autonomous framework for broadcasting, noted that in the absence of co-ordination with concerned government departments and educational institutions; the health, farm and educational broadcasts have not been very effective. Another area where it felt the broadcast media was found inadequate was in promoting social justice and educating the underprivileged about their rights (Verghese, 1978).
Despite some such shortcomings, Indian television also has to its credit significant initiatives of promoting social change in rural areas. Notable among them are SITE, the educational telecasts and the Kheda Communication Project. One of the most extensive educational and social research projects, perhaps the largest national television experiment in the world, has been SITE (Vilanilam, 2005). Some of these landmark initiatives are discussed in the next section.
Landmark Initiatives in Development Communication using Television
The journey of television in India took a new turn with the launch of the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment in 1975-76. It was a one year pilot-project using the National Aeronautics and Space Administration‟s ATS-6 satellite to broadcast educational messages through satellite to 2400 villages in the six states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Orissa, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Its objectives were to improve rural primary education, provide teacher training, improve agriculture, health and hygiene, and nutritional practices and contribute to family planning and national integration (Singhal and Rogers, 2001).
SITE was “an unqualified success in terms of hardware but the software wasn‟t specific enough to the area and audience in content or language, and therefore was not so useful and comprehensible” (Joshi, 1985, p.32). The important lesson learnt was that the software has to be area-specific, relevant to the needs and aspirations of the audience, and has to be in the local language (Page and Crawley, 2001; Singhal and Rogers, 2001).
The Kheda Communication Project (KCP) launched in 1976 remains to-date the most innovative experiment in using television for empowerment and participatory rural development. Initially known as Pij TV, it used a one-kilowatt transmitter. The Pij transmitter could be received in a radius of about 30 km from Pij village (Agrawal and Raghaviah, 2006). It was India‟s first effort at decentralised community television broadcasting and received the prestigious UNESCO-IPDC prize for rural communication effectiveness.
Some 650 community television sets were provided to 400 villages and installed in public places. One of the reasons for the success of the KCP was due to its ability to tap into the existing development infrastructure of Kheda district. It collaborated with extension agencies working in dairying, agriculture and health services, with local banks, cooperatives and employment exchanges (Singhal and Rogers, 2001). The accent was on participatory programme making, the themes were often local, dared to deal with controversial subjects such as caste discrimination, alcoholism etc., and for the first time systemic audience research was carried out (Thomas, 2010).
Recognising it contribution, UNESCO noted, “Kheda was an exceptional example of the combining of modern technologies with a participatory approach to communication. The project employed traditional cultural expressions of a rural community in the creation of its audiovisual programmes, while using modern evaluation techniques for its programme planning. Overall, this project proved to be a good example of the applications of 9 communication for the promotion of human development, particularly of the rural poor, women and children” (UNESCO website, 2011, para. 14).
Despite being such a success, the Kheda Project was carried out in splendid isolation from the mainstream and its lessons were not allowed to influence the development and programme trajectory adopted by Doordarshan (Thomas, 2010).