Television: India

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.



1959- mid-1980s: briefly

Abhilash Gaur, Oct 3, 2021: The Times of India

The results of a Lok Sabha election were televised for the first time in 1971
From: Abhilash Gaur, Oct 3, 2021: The Times of India

Before cable TV caught on in the 1990s, city roofs had turned into a forest of aluminium fronds. Each house in every building had its own ‘tree’ on the roof. You needed them to receive Doordarshan (DD) signals, but those old antennas were directional. A strong wind or even the burden of perched pigeons could disorient them, leaving you staring at an eruption of white and grey dots, or colours, if you had a colour TV. You ran upstairs, leaving someone in the room as a guide.






“A little more… That’s it. Stop, stop, stop.”

The whole building knew you had set your antenna right. You could go back to your Sunday evening movie, or Wimbledon final, or Rajani, or whatever else you had been watching. But there was nothing you could do if a big leader died. During days of national mourning, DD shut shop and went home, or drowned you in shastriya sangeet.

Not that DD was exciting otherwise. Children nodded off in the middle of the evening news. Grown-ups stayed up in the hope of catching an episode of Buniyaad, or Khandaan, or Fauji. It was not unusual for DD to repeat episodes, but viewers watched them anyway out of habit.

Children had only Sunday mornings to look forward to (Johnny Soko and his Flying Robot was a rare evening show). Mickey Mouse, Spider-Man, He-Man, Knight Rider and a few others walked the 80s’ generation to maturity. But Ramayan, Mahabharat, Chanakya, Bharat Ek Khoj and others had started encroaching on their time. Children twitched impatiently as Ramayan’s arrows took longer than intercontinental missiles to collide. When cable came, they happily jumped ship to sing, “I want my MTV.”

Radio with images

Still, DD in the early-90s was a much-improved avatar of its original. From the beginning, television in India had been intended to educate, not entertain. It started when All India Radio (AIR) approached the United States Information Service (USIS) in 1958 for help to start television services. USIS loaned AIR some cameras and other equipment, and Unesco gave 20 TV sets and portable generators to set up tele-clubs in Delhi.

And so, with a puny 500-watt Philips transmitter, Delhi got India’s first TV service on September 15, 1959. For some years, there were just two shows of one hour each in a week, available only within a radius of 20km. Nobody missed the signals, though.

Even in 1973, Delhi had only 75,000 TV sets. The government kept a count because, back then, you needed a licence to own a TV or even a radio. The annual licence fee was Rs 30. So, you had to be rich to have your private telly. In 1974, a 19-inch B/W TV cost about Rs 2,100 in India, while in the US it was worth $150, or Rs 1,200 at the prevailing exchange rate of Rs 8 to a dollar.

While Delhi experimented with television as an educational tool through the 1960s, other metros didn’t get their stations until the early 1970s. Mumbai station was commissioned on October 2, 1972.

The main Delhi experiment in those years was called ‘Delhi School Television Project’. It started in 1960, and by 1964-65, 62% of the city’s 367 higher secondary schools had a TV set to show students 20-minute lessons.

‘Agricultural Television Pilot Project’ came next. On January 26, 1967, it launched Krishi Darshan, the longest running show on Indian TV. But the audience for it shrank rapidly. A survey found the main reason farmers didn’t watch it was that they came home tired after working in the field and were in no mood to be ‘educated’ about crops.

When AIR started daily telecasts from August 1, 1965, it wedged in some entertainment in its schedule. Once a month, it showed a feature film edited to fit a 90-minute slot. Then came Chitrahar, a Bollywood music show, and the guiding principle for both the film and the songs was “suitability for viewing in a family setting”. Each Chitrahar show was previewed by AIR’s senior programme officer and an assistant station director.

Doordarshan is born

Through the 1960s, making shows was difficult because import controls kept 16mm cameras, film and processing labs scarce. A committee pointed out that studios were forced to erase old interviews and other programmes from tapes to reuse them. As a result, the BBC had more footage of Indian leaders than AIR.

It was the government’s policy then to not allow commercials on TV. But the 70s brought the realisation that Indian TV needed a new direction. More entertainment, if anything. More money too.

Between 1969 and 1973, the daily telecast duration had doubled from 2 hours to 4 hours, but the big change happened on April 1, 1976, when Indian radio and television parted ways. The TV arm became Doordarshan (a literal translation of ‘television’) that day, with a revolving logo that looked like the rounded aperture blades of a camera lens. It was also the day Indian TV went commercial. All those memorable ads – Liril, Bajaj, Nirma, Rasna, Garden Vareli, Luna, to name a few – wouldn’t have become part of our collective memory otherwise. Of course, we could have exchanged notes about Ek Chidiya, Anek Chidiya, and Mile Sur Mera Tumhara today.

Gradually, Indian TV became less preachy and more friendly with a little foreign help. Star Trek found an Indian following. The usually dry weekday evenings were sometimes brightened by English detectives in Target, and Shoestring. Didi’s Comedy Show from Germany raised many laughs. Oshin from Japan was a lesson in grace and fortitude.

There was no English music on DD, but once a year you got to watch the Grammy highlights. Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Alannah Myles, REM – the singers who stared at you from cassette covers came alive for an hour. And sanskari DD could do nothing when Robert Palmer left parents red-faced before kids with Simply Irresistible. In 1982, DD had switched to colour telecasts in preparation for the Asian Games, and in April 1984 the country saw its only cosmonaut, Rakesh Sharma, tell PM Indira Gandhi that India looked ‘Sare Jahan Se Achha’ from space. While DD occasionally scored these points, it needed a blockbuster, which arrived in July 1984 in the form of Hum Log.

A family drama with social issues at its core and veteran actor Ashok Kumar’s thoughtful epilogues after each episode, it prodded thousands of families to buy a TV. There was an explosion of TV brands – Weston, Beltek, Uptron, Nelco, Texla, Dyanora… Down to Oscar, Onida, Videocon and Binatone.

Hum Log became so popular, by one account DD received 2 lakh letters from viewers over its 18-month run, and the cast got an equal number. Other shows replicated Hum Log’s success in the decade ahead, and the Indian viewer resigned herself to a life with DD, accepting it would be mostly dull but also interesting in parts. Then cable arrived and cleared the forest of antennas.

Dubbed films, serials

Ban on telecast violates Competition Act

Dhananjay Mahapatra, SC: Ban on telecast of dubbed TV shows violates Competition Act, Mar 17 2017 : The Times of India

At a time when linguistic jingoism is on the rise, the Supreme Court in a significant ruling said anyone attempting to stall exhibition of dubbed films or dubbed serials in the name of protecting a language would be guilty of violating the Competition Act, 2002.

The bone of contention before the SC was the telecast of TV serial `Mahabharat“ dubbed from Hindi to Bengali on different TV channels of Bengal. This was unpalatable to the Eastern India Motion Picture Association (EIMPA) and the Coordination Com mittee of Artists and Technicians of West Bengal Film and Television Investors.

EIMPA and the Coordination Committee felt telecast of serials produced in other languages but dubbed in Bengali would adversely affect producers, artists and technicians in Bengal. They apprehended that it would deter production of such serials in Bengali.Both wrote letters to channels asking them to stop telecast of `Mahabharat' dubbed in Bengali citing “interest of healthy growth of film and TV industry in Bengal“.

They reminded channel owners of a 13-year-long convention in Bengal not to telecast any serial produced in another language and dubbed in Bengali. The threat was also extended to two TV channels that if the telecast was not stopped, their chan nels would face non-cooperation from EIMPA and the Coordination Committee. Telecast of the serial was stopped after a few episodes.

The Competition Commission of India, on a complaint by the owner of one of the channels, found the threat anti-competitive. However, the Competition Appellate Tribunal held that the threat did not throttle competition.The CCI moved the SC against the tribunal's decision.

A bench of Justices A K Sikri and A M Sapre agreed with the CCI and said that the boycott threat aimed to prevent the two channels from pursuing their legitimate commercial activities.

Licensing of TV channels

The Times of India, Aug 12 2016

Govt cancelled licences of 73 TV channels & 24 FM stations

The information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry has cancelled the “permission“ of 73 TV channels, 24 FM channels and nine newspapers periodicals for violations.

In response to a question in Rajya Sabha, minister of state for I&B Rajyavardhan Rathore said, “For violating the provisions of uplinking guidelines, the permission of 73 TV channels has been cancelled till date." These include Just TV, Khaas, Mohua Punjabi, Mohua Telegu, Vision Entertainment and Key TV among others whose licences were cancelled be cause the channels were not operationalised within the stipulated period of a year. Others like Focus NE, Focus Haryana, STV Haryana, Lemon TV were yanked off air because the home ministry denied security clearance. At present, 892 private satellite TV channels are registered in the country. The ministry has also revoked the licences of 24 FM channels of six private broadcasters for violation of provisions of the grant of permission agreement (GOPA) signed by them with the government.The ministry has granted permission to 42 private channels and 196 community radio stations in the country.

The ministry , through the Registrar of Newspapers of India, has cancelled the registration of nine newspapers and periodicals.

The ministry is also working towards tightening norms for the print media.“Realising the need to update and revise the legal mechanism in print sector, owing to phenomenal growth after liberalisation of government policies, I&B ministry has initiated the Press and Registration of Books and Publications (PRBP) Bill with a view to replace the existing PRB Act, 1867, the minister said.

AIR and DD to boost signals in border areas


New Delhi: The Centre plans to counter foreign broadcasts across border areas by strengthening the signals of All India Radio and Doordarshan.High power FM transmitters are being installed at 12 locations, including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, J&K and Tripura among others.

“In addition to this, schemes for setting up of 10kW FM transmitters at six locations specially providing coverage along the India-Nepal border have also been approved. These transmitters are to be installed at Sashastra Seema Bal sites, minister of state for I&B Rajyavardhan Rathore said in response to a Rajya Sabha question.

1-day ban on news channel for `jeopardising' security

Himanshi Dhawan, 1-day ban on news channel for `jeopardising' security, Nov 04 2016 : The Times of India

Television channels that violated the rukes, 2007-16

The government directed Hindi news channel NDTV India in Nov 2016 to go off air for 24 hours starting from midnight on November 9 for allegedly jeopardising national security while covering the terror attack on Pathankot airbase in January .

This is the first time that a broadcaster has been penalised over coverage of a terror attack. According to the information and broadcasting ministry order, the channel's anchor and reporter had revealed sensitive information during the coverage of the attack that could have been picked up by terrorists in the airbase and their handlers had the potential to “cause massive harm not only to national security but also to civilians and defence personnel“.

While the operation to flush out the terrorists was still on, the channel had disclosed information on ammunition stockpiled in the airbase, fighter planes like MIGs, rocket launchers, mortars and fuel tanks.

Official sources said that as the content appeared to violate the programming norms, a show-cause notice was issued to the channel in January . The channel appealed against the order before the inter-ministerial committee, arguing that the purported violations were based on “subjective interpretation“. However, the committee remained unconvinced and observed that the channel “appeared to give exact location of the remaining terrorists vis-a-vis sensitive assets in their vicinity .“ The panel said that the channel had given the location of an ammunition depot, a school and residential premises vis-a-vis the space where the terrorists were holed up and recommended that the channel be taken off air for 30 days. It later restricted the ban period to a day .

Reacting to the I&B order, a channel executive said, “We have received the letter. It is shocking that NDTV has been singled out in this manner.Every channel and newspaper had similar coverage. In fact, NDTV's coverage was particularly balanced. After the dark days of the Emergency when the press was fettered, it is extraordinary that NDTV is being proceeded against in this manner. NDTV is examining all options in this matter.“ The ministry maintained that the decision was taken after it was found that the channel had “not shown restraint, responsibility and sensitivity and revealed strategically sensitive details“.

In June 2015, the I&B ministry had introduced a new clause in the programme code that said that broadcasters were prohibited from “live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation, wherein media coverage shall be restricted to periodic briefing by an officer designated by the appropriate government till such operation concludes“.

At present, there are 243 TV transmitters of varying power functioning in border districts in the country.

All areas that are not covered by terrestrial transmission -including those in border areas -have been provided with multi-channel TV coverage through DD's freeto-air service `DD Free Dish'.

Contribution of television to the Indian economy more than film industry’s: 2012-13

Contribution of television and film industry to the Indian economy;
Graphic courtesy: India Today

See graphic:

Contribution of television and film industry to the Indian economy

See also

Television sets: India

Television shows: Hindi- Urdu

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