A small incident often reveals a much bigger and serious problem. The telecast of an edited version of an interview with Narendra Modi has raised the issue of the State’s control over Doordarshan. The Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharati, Jawhar Sircar, has in a letter regretted the fact that the government continues to cast its shadow over Doordarshan. The word, “shadow’’, in this context, conveys a resonance of control. Doordarshan is not allowed to function as an autonomous body. The idea of a State-owned or a State-sponsored TV channel is an obsolete idea that harks back to the days of State socialism that was prevalent in India, in emulation of the erstwhile Soviet Union, before the Nineties. There is no justification for a State-owned TV channel or for a State-owned airline. It is to be hoped that in the next spurt of liberalization such ideas will be consigned to the junk heap of Oxford.
To counter the point made in the previous paragraph, it is often argued that the famous BBC is also fully funded by the British government, in spite of it being an autonomous body. This argument is specious on two counts. One, instances of the British government attempting to control the BBC or to censor it are extremely rare. The second point is even more significant. The BBC, because of the support it receives from the State, is in a position to do programmes that it would not be able to do if it were dependent on advertisements and market forces. The hallmark of most, if not all these, programmes is quality. These programmes are not aimed at the mass market or for gaining popularity. They are done because the BBC believes that there are certain types of programmes that are worth doing even if they appeal only to a niche audience. It is this same logic that leads to the State support of opera, the National Theatre and the South Bank. State support has thus led to the flourishing of certain forms of art in Britain. In Britain, therefore, State support of the arts and of the BBC has a rationale that is determined by quality and excellence.
In India, no one quite associates Doordarshan with quality. Rather the opposite is the common perception. Both in the segments of news and entertainment, what is seen on Doordarshan is inferior to what is telecast on private TV channels. Doordarshan was conceived of as an instrument in the hands of the State to keep a control over news and what the public was seeing. News in Doordarshan was only occasionally censored, but often it was doctored to meet the needs and priorities of the government. Mr Sircar has spoken out against this tendency from within the system. He deserves to be applauded because he is not only fighting a system but is also battling a mindset.