INNOVATION IN TERRESTRIAL TV
IN SOUTH ASIA
TABLE OF CONTENTS
3 May 2001
by William Crawley on behalf of MSA
William Crawley on behalf of the Media South Asia project welcomed participants to the workshop which he said was being held in Sri Lanka because that country was ahead of the rest of South Asia in introducing competition into the electronic media. Sri Lanka’s recent experience offered an opportunity to study innovative programme strategies for winning new audiences as well as the effects of intensified market pressures on programme quality. Elsewhere in South Asia, only Bangladesh had introduced full fledged terrestrial competition for its state broadcaster, with the launch of Ekushey TV in May 2000. In Nepal, competition with the state sector is confined to privatised time-slots on Nepal TV, whereas in India and Pakistan, there was no terrestrial competition for the state sector. In both these countries, however, the state sector had faced intense competition in recent years from satellite channels. By bringing together broadcasters from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, as well as from Sri Lanka’s own television industry, the workshop aimed to encourage innovation on a wider scale in the region and to identify barriers to change. Programme makers from outside Sri Lanka would be discussing with their counterparts in Colombo how they were responding to the challenge of competition from within their different media environments. William Crawley thanked Mr Janadasa Peiris and his colleagues in the Sri Lankan Ministry of Information for their assistance in setting up the workshop and the Sri Lankan broadcasting stations for their willingness to host visits from the workshop.
Janadasa Peiris brought apologies from the Minister of Information, Mr Priyadarshana Yapa, who was unable to open the workshop because of an emergency cabinet meeting. In the minister’s speech, which Mr Peiris read, he welcomed the workshop for two reasons: firstly because of the importance of communications to the process of globalisation which had ‘engulged the world in recent years’ and secondly in order to share experiences in the development of the Sri Lankan media with members of the SAARC family. Though Sri Lanka had opened up its electronic media to competition before other South Asian countries, he said ‘ we are still in our infancy in restructuring... and face challenges in this process.’ One disadvantage of globalisation was the ‘infiltration of alien cultures into our society, which erodes our centuries-old heritage’. Whilst making the media more market and profit-oriented, a major challenge was ‘ to protect our Asian culture and the public interest’. There was a need to think globally and act locally in meeting this challenge. The Minister took note of the recent introduction of terrestrial competition in Bangladesh and expressed the hope that ‘ their experience will serve our common South Asian approach to innovation.’ He thanked the IDS for arranging the workshop.
After Janadasa Peiris and a
number of others had lit the lamp to inaugurate the workshop, David
Page outlined the shape of the workshop. The growth of television
competition in Sri Lanka had brought enormous energy and inventiveness
to the media and, despite restrictions on reporting of the war, a
number of exciting programmes had emerged which extended the scope
of political debate in new and participatory ways. Terrestrial competition
had also had the advantage that Sri Lankan broadcasters were addressing
the same universe ; there were fewer divisions between urban and rural
than elsewhere in South Asia in the post-satellite age. In the workshop,
broadcasters from outside Sri Lanka would be talking about the challenges
they face from increasing satellite competition in their own countries.
There would also be a number of visits to Sri Lankan stations to hear
from them how they are developing their strategies, what is viable
in the new media market and where they see the public interest in
the new situation. Though there was inevitably some wariness of sharing
strategies with competitors, it was hoped that there would be value
in coming together to discuss what the private and commercial sectors
had in common.
H.M.Gunasekera opened the session by giving a brief introduction to the electronic media in Sri Lanka, from the beginnings of radio in 1925 to the present day. The first TV station, ITN, had been set up in 1979 and taken over by the state within a matter of months. Rupavahini, the state television service, had begun in 1982. Competition for state radio and television had come in 1992 and 1993 respectively, with the foundation of FM99 and MTV. Arthur Clarke had once said that ‘Sri Lanka was created by God for television’ - a reference to the fact that a transmitter fixed on the highest point in the centre of the island - Piduruthalagala - could be heard over a good part of the island. This had helped Rupavahini to establish its audience in the early days....
Rosmand Senaratne of Swarnavahini took up the question of tranmission facilities, saying that Piduruthalagala had given Rupavahini ‘exclusive benefits’ which it had been difficult for its competitors to match. He also spoke about Sri Lanka’s ‘very small market comparatively’ and the problems caused by the fact that advertising budgets were not growing adequately. Sri Lanka had 9 TV channels and many were having difficulty meeting their ‘break-evens’. This was affecting quality in a negative manner. TV stations were compelled to cut costs and restrict both programme sophistication and the purchase of equipment. A reliance on cheap foreign imports had led to criticisms of content and presentation, which were ‘ often in conflict with local cultural norms’. Despite this, channels were trying to make participatory programmes with new formats on low budgets and these were a significant feature of the Sri Lankan media. They were not confined to news and current affairs. There were also educational and information programmes, panel discussions and opportunities to interract on social and political issues, which were very popular. As far as foreign imports were concerned, many feature movies were successfully subtitled. Local music programmes had adopted satellite TV presentation styles. The virtual studio concept had also proved a low cost and convenient way of presenting programmes and had been received well by viewers. It enabled presenters to be on air for many hours, particularly in the mornings.
former chairman of Rupavahini, welcomed the opportunity to speak to
the workshop ‘ a little freely and frankly’ now that he was no longer
in the job. He had been called to shoulder the responsibility at the
height of the commercialisation process and his experience illustrated
the difficulties experienced by the state broadcaster in adjusting
to the new situation. One immediate problem he faced on taking over
in 1995 was that Rupavahini had no corporate plan and had not had
one since its foundation in 1982. A mission statement and objectives
were developed by August the same year - a process involving workshops
for most of the staff - but it soon became clear that ‘ there were
inherent constraints if a public corporation was required to operate
as a commercial organisation in a highly competitive business environment.’
An organisation set up under company law like ITN was much more flexible.
Dew Gunasekere then enumerated some of the constraints. One was the
‘ rigidity of the structure’ imposed on Rupavahini by the Act of parliament
which set it up. This Act was conceived after the introduction of
open economic policies in Sri Lanka but ‘ the problems of operating
in the new competitive and volatile environment had not been sufficiently
thought through’. Under the Act, the corporation was accountable to
a large number of authorities: Cabinet, parliament, treasury, ministry
and auditor-general. And ‘ to keep track of circulars and comply with
these requirements was a source of irritation to a commercial organisation’.
Looking to the future, Dew Gunasekere identified three main problems. Firstly, the TV advertising market is reaching saturation point. Revenues had increased by 170% in 1995-6, 140% between 1996 and 98, 20% in 98-99 and only 3% in 99-2000. Radio had increased by 342% between 1998 and 2000 and print had increased by 32% over the same period. Looking at the total advertising market, it had reached 4000 million rupees in 2000, expanding at the rate of 25% in 94-5, 39% in 96-7, 65% in 97-8, 88% in 98-99, and only 9% in 99-2000. The market is ‘coming to a halt’. TV had been leading the other media in 95-6; now it is radio in the lead, followed by print, then TV. This meant that on TV ‘ competition is gong to be fierce, particularly in prime time’. ‘The real war starts at 7 until 9.30. Like the scramble for Africa, all the 9 channels are trying to take their share of 1600 million rupees’. ‘It is all tied to the growth of the economy,but even if the economy expands it will not expand at the rate it was in 1995.’
Secondly, ‘this is particularly going to affect the Public Service Broadcasters because they are doing lots of programmes for national and social obligations free of charge and the government is not giving them a cent.’ Until 1999 there was a TV licence fee, though it was not sufficient to cover the cost of programmes made for the government on health, education, the environment and other subjects. ‘ In the 1999 budget, the government took a policy decision to abolish the licence fees and Rupavahini was left high and dry. We immediately lost 100 million rupees at the stroke of the pen. That is the day I went and told H.E. : ‘ Find a new chairman’. I told her because she never consulted me or the Board or even the Minister. That day I gave notice. Of course I waited 10 months.... Suddenly it was stopped and I had to fight a big battle. I said ‘unless you give the money - and I put that in writing- (we will not be able to carry on broadcasting these programmes). They promised but I don’t know if it is coming. You can manage without a licence fee provided the government will not insist on various programmes and national obligations to be telecast without paying charges. If the departments are prepared to pay, OK. ( but they are not good payers). The Education Department owed 35 million rupees to the SLRC. ‘ Parliament passes the vote but the minister has the right to transfer money from one head to another, so you don’t know if you are going to get it.’ Another instance relates to the Election Law. ‘The election law says that the Rupavahini Corporation is required to broadcast election programmes free of charge. I had a big fight with the Election Commissioner. I said ‘ nothing doing’. The Treasury Secretary said ‘You will have to meet your commitment.’ Eventually, it went up to the Cabinet and the Cabinet agreed that the government would pay for the election programmes. If we had not carried on that battle, we would have had to meet the costs ourselves.
Thirdly, ‘stability is absolutely necessary in a public corporation’. ‘I had the distinction of serving for 6 years’ but the SLRC has had 13 Chairman in its 19 years. There is a need to get out of the ‘government department mentality’ and to make the SLRC more commercially oriented. Dew Gunasekere said he believed the SLRC had the ‘necessary strength’ to achieve this. He did not believe that ownership determines the efficiency of an organisation. What was needed was ‘ competent staff, contented staff, a high level of professionalism and credibility’ and what was absolutely necessary was ‘autonomy’. ‘Media organisations need creative thinking. You can’t get a good programme by government order. The style of an organisation is very important.’ He said that there was so much devotion to Rupavahini among the staff that the necessary conditions for success are there. So many staff had been sent for training abroad. It was necessary exposure and had brought benefits. The Corporation had won a large number of awards in 2000 because it was able to enhance the professionalism of the staff.
Sunila Abeyasekere of the Women and Media Collective said ‘ there is a need to reassign the roles we have traditionally assigned to the commercial and the public sectors. The state is not devoid of commercial interests, nor are the commercial channels devoid of public interest. It is more complex now.’ Sunila gave two examples of the growing hybridity of Sri Lankan culture. On International Women’s Day in Polonaruwa a little Tamil girl wearing jeans, a tea shirt, white socks and white shoes had danced a Michael Jackson impersonation. It was not the traditional Tamil bharat natyam dance which had been expected but it was the item which had been most enjoyed. ‘They want to be modern’ said Sunila, ‘ and modernity is what they see on MTV’. Another example came from Kolupitiya, a suburb of Colombo, where children from a Catholic school were preparing a dance to celebrate Vesak. It was a mixture of Sinhala and Tamil - of Christianity and Buddhism - and was another illustration of what Sunila called Sri Lanka’s ‘benign attitude to diversity’ which continues despite the persistence of war and inevitably results in ‘schizophrenic attitudes’. Viewers had appreciated the growth of interractive programmes since the media opened up in 1993. This had been a ‘radical and innovative development’ which was important to Sri Lanka ‘ because we are a very political society’. ‘ Before it was very one-way. You could not answer back.’ It was only in response to these private sector programmes that the SLRC had followed suit. But there were also negative effects of the satellite revolution: stereotypical images, particularly of women; a middle class version of life - as in the Bold and the Beautiful and Baywatch; and on Sri Lankan television ‘some very bad programmes in terms of the representation of women and minorities.’ In this, private and public TV were behaving in much the same way, ‘recasting stereotypes and slanting programmes in one way’. This was a big issue for civil society groups.
Dew Gunasekere had spoken of Rupavahini’s legal obligations but she said ‘everyone wants to play safe’. MTV was blacking out all references to Sri Lanka on international news bulletins, sometimes in ridiculous ways, as soon as Sri Lanka was mentioned. Self-censorship was restraining people’s freedom to report and be truthful. The media also faced extra-legal restraints. Some journalists had been killed.
Sunila spoke of ‘ grave concerns about the ethics of some of the interviews carried by the private sector’. There had been a welcome extension of areas for debate. The private stations had no compunction in talking about homosexuality, abortion, drugs and ‘ some of this had been useful after years of not being able to tackle these issues’. But the trend to mask prostitutes and drug dealers in interviews had ‘ criminalised these people visually’.
In conclusion, she said that public and private channels needed to debate questions of public interest and how they should be handled. She believed there were lessons which TV could learn from radio in this field.
Nupur Basu asked if there was a possibility of a ‘ Viewers’ forum’ in Sri Lanka on the Indian model. Sunila said that it had not been done so far but it would be a good idea to try to develop it.
Hilmy Ahamed said ‘ the tragedy of public service broadcasting is that it is considered an unmarketable product’. He thought it was time to change that. He said YATV had tried quite hard to bring social messages through commercially sponsored broadcasting but marketing did not only mean that the programme is sold to a commercial company. ‘ There are many other ways of getting sponsorship for programmes.’
According to Shireen Pasha, in Pakistan there was very little research into factual and information programming. Most marketing companies are doing nothing in this area. Lever Brothers were doing research only in the city of Karachi - among 15% of the population. She wondered if more comprehensive research was being done elsewhere in South Asia.
said that in Sri Lanka quality research into factual programmes was
David Page asked if it was thought that too many channels had been licensed in Sri Lanka and whether channels would accept additional obligations to the public as part of the licensing process? Rosmand Senaratne said all stations were concerned about relations with the public but budgets were not growing and there were few funds for special programmes. He said teledramas were the key to the mass market. It was very difficult to find sponsors for public service programmes and so channels will only do so much in this field; they might be prepared to see a programme break even but they would not want to make losses. He thought in time there would be channel mergers because otherwise they would face survival problems. Audiences were exposed to sophisticated programmes from outside, so they expected quality programmes on the Sri Lankan channels. Mukesh Sharma wondered if the selling of airtime might raise additional funds and help stations ‘to balance their economics’. Nupur Basu said that in India news was also proving its popularity with advertisers. She also wondered how censorship worked for the Sri Lankan private channels. Rosmand Senaratne said the phone did ring when certain kinds of stories were covered. But it was still possible to make an impact if one had professional reporters. Unfortunately, many private channels depended on regional reporters who were not very well trained. At Swarnavahini, they were concentrating more on analysis and debate within news programmes.
1200 THE END
OF STATE MONOPOLY IN BANGLADESH
Introducing the session,
David Page said it was unfortunate that Syed Sayyied
K.M.Harun responded by saying that till now we are not facing any competition because Ekushey TV is only a year old and they are concentrating only on news, not programmes’. He said ‘ mainly we are producing programmes - whether in house or commissioned from outside BTV’. After recounting the role that broadcasters from BTV had played in the liberation war for Bangladesh, K.M.Harun said the main aim of BTV was not to provide entertainment or to increase its commercial profits but to serve responsibly the public need for education and information. The channel was a product of Bangladesh’s democratic and self determination movement. Though it was guided by state policies, BTV was free to broadcast programmes according to its own plan. Mr Harun said that BTV had come to be regarded as a fine institution which had met its objectives, broadcasting attractive programmes suited to local people’s choice and taste. BTV had played a leading role in promoting private production houses. He outlined the schedules being broadcast by the private terrestrial channel Ekushey TV, the satellite channels, Channel I and ATN. ETV broadcast 11 hours of news compared to BTV’s nine hours but it also carried BTV’s 10.30 news bulletin. BTV allocated 14 hours weekly to educational and mass awareness programmes, ETV only 5 hours. ETV broadcast twice as many hours of entertainment as BTV and Channel I four times. ATN Bangla carried programmes procured from both India and Bangladesh. He said that ATN, unlike BTV, carried tobacco advertisements, which were of low standard and sometimes vulgar. As a national broadcaster, BTV devoted most of its time to educational and mass awareness programmes which did not bring monetary returns but BTV was proud to play such a vital role in the national interest of Bangladesh.
the station director at Chittagong, said that his station was broadcasting
one hour and fifteen minutes per day, half an hour for the national
hook-up and the rest aimed at local people, particularly those in
the hill areas, including programmes on culture and religion, sport
and drama, and for women and children. Bangladesh Television drama
is of a high standard and has no difficulty raising sponsorship. The
station has also produced such successful entertainment programmes
as ‘Ittadi’ which ran on BTV from 1988-1996 and is now being produced
for another channel by the same producer. There is currently no professional
studio for drama at Chittagong but they do broadcast stage drama and
In the discussion, Nupur Basu asked whether BTV was not being complacent in saying there was no competition. Considering the kind of images being broadcast on satellite TV, was BTV being contemporary enough? Shireen Pasha thought the films which had been shown were indicative of a ‘directive-type approach’ and did not get below the surface. Reazzuddin and Harun said they had brought films which showed something of the country but BTV broadcast all sorts of contemporary programmes, whereas other channels were relying largely on entertainment. Both agreed that state control did impose limitations, particularly in news. That was one of the reasons why BTV news was not very popular in the urban areas. Ekushey TV was popular, said Harun, ‘because they are showing everything and they have a neutral approach.’ Reazzuddin said that BTV and ETV were not competitors. ETV was broadcasting BTV news as well as its own, and the two stations exchanged news clips. Reazzuddin said : ‘ETV is doing it its way and we are following the government line - to try to give what the rural people want’. David Page asked if Rupavahini was also distinguishing between urban and rural audiences in this way. P.Meegaswatte said they were not doing so in news broadcasts but they were conscious of the different needs of the two audiences. Hilmy Ahamed said he thought BTV’s programmes were as good as those of any other national broadcaster. The presentations had focussed on the beauty of the country but BTV’s social programmes were extremely good. Nupur Basu thought it was ‘a comedy of sorts’ that ETV was obliged to broadcast BTV news on its airwaves. It was ‘a huge condition’ to impose on any station. Harun did not think there was a contradiction. BTV broadcast ministers’ views, whereas ETV gave more space to the opposition and the people’s views. Shireen Pasha thought that PTV, DD and BTV also shared ‘similar and parallel situations in their directive approach’ , though Mukesh Sharma of DD did not agree.
1415: Depart for Maharajah TV
TO MAHARAJAH TV
2000 ‘ THE
SRI LANKAN MEDIA AND THE NEWS AGENDA’
4 May 2001
TO THE SATELLITE CHALLENGE
Shireen Pasha asked how Mukesh Sharma had dealt with the allocation of time to the private sector and how he perceived public service broadcasting. She said she had a feeling that the new live programmes were also ‘of a certain kind’. Mukesh said previously there had been no transparency in dealing with the private sector: by making sure contracts went to the highest bidders transparency had been restored and good programmes were assured. On public service broadcasting, Mukesh said the programmes had to be accessible. Beyond that, he saw it in terms of ‘social responsibility - the man in the queue is also taken care of’- and of providing programmes which private broadcasters find it difficult to show: live programmes, documentaries, events of all kinds, and of course sport. P. Meegaswatte enquired about the frequency and length of bulletins and gameshows on Doordarshan. Mukesh said he had developed a satellite news bulletin at 2215-2230; game shows were broadcast twice per week.
Khatre from Nepal TV spoke about its strategies for coping
with the growth of satellite competition. He said if Sri Lanka was
made for terrestrial TV, Nepal was made for satellite - so much of
the country was mountainous and inaccessible. The Nepal TV terrestrial
signal was particularly poor in the west of the country. It was ‘highly
necessary’ for Nepal TV to introduce satellite transmissions but so
far there was insufficient government support for it. Outlining the
Nepal TV schedule, he said daily transmissions ran from 0600 to 2300
but some long timeslots had been sold to production houses, including
1000-1700 and 1930-2100. News and current affairs took up approximately
20% of the output, with four bulletins throughout the day, early in
the morning, at 1400, 2000 and 2200. There was a mixed pattern of
programming, with documentaries, health and agriculture programmes,
music programmes of different kinds, as well as programmes sponsored
and paid for by government departments like the Social Welfare Council
and the Tourist Board. A number of programmes involved foreign collaborations.
Two programmes a week were made by Young Asia Television, with a Nepali
presenter and some Nepali components. The Nepal Federation of Environmental
Journalists (NEFEJ) put out a weekly programme on the environment,
with components provided by TVE. Nepal TV also ran Hindi mythologicals,
like the Ramayana, which proved very popular. In earlier years, it
had also run some ‘very nice’ Pakistan TV serials, though these had
now been superseded by satellite TV soap operas. Nepal TV had also
stopped showing English serials like Faulty Towers. To illustrate
the output of Nepal TV, Gokul Singh Khatre played a documentary film
about tribal people in Eastern Nepal which had been made by a young
Finland-trained Nepal TV director. Several participants commented
on the high quality of the film and asked how frequently such documentaries
were shown. Gokul Singh Khatre said they were not a regular feature,
though Nepal TV did commission a number of such documentaries every
year. Asked whether Nepal TV was profitable, he said the government
continued to fund the technical side of the work but Nepal TV was
covering its own salary and administration costs. Asked about the
use of satellite technology, he said it would be used to feed terrestrial
transmitters in different parts of the country and would offer scope
to develop new audiences among Nepalis in Assam, Sikkim, Uttaranchal
and other parts of India.
In the absence of Khwaja Najmul Hassan of Pakistan TV, who had been unable to obtain a visa to come to the conference, Shireen Pasha, who had worked for 15 years with PTV before starting her own production company in 1990, spoke both about the state and the independent sectors.
Shireen Pasha shared with the workshop the recommendations of a workshop held in Islamabad in 2001 to discuss the relations between PTV and the private sector. The workshop recommended that PTV should 1) promote opportunities for new talent in the performing arts 2) create healthy competition and better standards in private productions 3) find ways of sustaining PTV financially so it can promote these ends 4) create new partnerships with business houses to promote social marketing 5) establish regulations and set ethical standards to prevent the misuse of privatised time. It also argued that PTV should make socially relevant programmes, using social learning theories, to promote role models and behavioural change. The aim should be to enable the masses to make their own choices. The media should be used to train citizens in their new roles of participation. Gender biases should be removed. Rather than the traditional top-down directive approach, dialogue should be promoted. The workshop said none of these approaches had been apparent in PTV in 2000.
Shireen Pasha said that over the past 25 years, PTV had sold prime time unconditionally and encouraged the formation of a new media mafia which had made enormous profits. There had been almost no media research or feedback and no field trials of programmes, no effort to deliver social messages in timeslots convenient for the majority of the voters. There had been no research into the effects of programmes at a social level, only into the sale of products. Private productions concentrated on glamour themes in order to sell products and there were dozens of them in the pipeline. ‘There is no dialogue with the masses, only a top-down propaganda and entertainment approach. The use of the media as a means of bringing about change has not begun to be understood.’
Asked about the PTV schedule, the numbers of channels and their audiences, Shireen described the different profiles of PTV1, PTV2 and PTV World. PTV World was entirely on satellite, PTV1 was the main terrestrial channel, PTV had been launched as ‘the people’s channel’ but followed the same pattern. PTV was highly centralised and its decision-making process ‘arbitrary’. She described the decline in PTV which had set in after General Zia took over and plunged it into the red. It had begun to restore its finances in 1993, but was back in the red in 1995. Since 1997 the station’s finances had been improving, though only through the sale of prime time. The news remained entirely in the hands of government and reflected the government position. Asked about PTV’s ‘golden period’, Shireen said that in the 1970s, PTV had an international reputation for quality programmes. Aslam Azhar’s vision could be seen in the programme ideas, the content, the quality of people recruited, the sort of writers commissioned. There was an entire school of television which crashed after Zia came to power. But despite the difficulties of operating under military government, PTV had continued to be sustained by the people who were trained in the 1960s and 70s, even if their influence had slowly been diluted. Azlam Azhar had created a sense of identity, a sense of working as a family, which people had wanted to preserve. Gokul Singh Khatre described the interest generated by a visit to Nepal in the 1980s of Hasina Moin, one of PTV’s leading scriptwriters. Shireen said that in the 1970s, the content of PTV serials had been radical. By the 1980s, under military rule, scriptwriters were more constrained. Mukesh Sharma asked how Pakistanis were reacting to the international channels. Was it legal to watch them? Shireen said it was entirely open and legal. ‘Thank God. We’ll have something to watch’ was the general response. The only person that was not represented was the viewer. Viewers took what was coming but ‘that portion of the triangle is still missing’.
Shireen Pasha then spoke about her work as an independent film-maker. The first serial she had produced was on the environment in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, with a strong research element. What had been exciting had been to sit down with the communities and take their reactions into account. This had never happened in PTV productions. The film had been shown at the Rio summit and had been taken up by NGOs. It had been successful in provoking communities to ask what they could do about the situation - and this itself became a subject of study. The second production had been called ‘Eikhi Rasta’- ‘The only way’ - a 50 minute film dealing with family planning. This was planned from the start for use in workshops with communities - and was accompanied with posters and workplans. Communities were involved throughout in the development of the story line - which proved that ‘if the community stays with you, it can become a role model’. The film was shown three times on PTV and taken up by NGOs. The reaction from PTV was that it was ‘ not very exciting’ but because it was taken up by the Ministry of Population there was no need to seek commercial sponsorship. That was in 1994. The third project, which was developed in 1997-8, dealt with literacy in Sind. By this stage there was no donor support available, so she made the film first and sought sponsorship afterwards. She used a well known writer from the commercial cinema to develop the 13 part series. It told the story of a young woman who went to teach in the villages and it brought up issues like the urban/rural divide and feudal reactions to education. In the end, the story was compelling enough to find sponsors but it was significant that ‘ the man who eventually paid for it told us not to mention to kind of research we had done’. There was a fear that if it was mentioned that the theme was literacy then the marketing people would not be able to sell it. What it did show, however, was the value of drama in putting these kind of issues across. ‘ We were almost throwing our hats in the air...’ said Shireen, ‘ that the things we found so hard to achieve in documentary in drama just came out...’ Shireen also shared with the workshop a production plan for one of her own films- a 30 minute drama – in which she had charted the emotional and dramatic development of the story as a graph, to illustrate the way in which it was structured.
K Hari Haran said that he wanted to play devil’s advocate where public service broadcasting is concerned. ‘One of the things I have felt’ he said, ‘ is that we have made a fetish of public service.’ It was doing an injustice to try to separate public and private broadcasting into ‘two very distinct and incompatible compartments’. He had suffered from this dichotomy himself. At the film school, he had been encouraged to turn his back on the directors he loved and to make serious films with a message. He had emerged a ‘complete misfit’, who thought that there was only one real film maker in the world and he was Hungarian. After making one feature film which did the rounds of the film festivals, he was being tipped as the next Mani Kaul, at that time his mentor in Bombay who had famously said ‘ Communication is not the sine qua non of art’. Kaul was also reported to have said that ‘he never had a problem with communication because his films went direct from the laboratory to the archive.’ In time, Hari Haran reacted against what he called ‘the early Buddhist/Christian mentality’ of didactic cinema. He moved to Chennai and tried to get back to the cinema he enjoyed. Since then his emphasis has been on learning from his subjects, not teaching them. ‘The public needs to teach us more than we can ever teach them’ he said.
Looking at recent trends in television, he said that TV had corporatised entertainment in a way that the cinema never had. The Indian film industry had been ‘ completely independent’ with different producers using studios to make films but no corporatised film studio output since the 1950s. This was why India could produce 750 feature films for the price of two Titanics. With TV, things had become more systematic; there were scripts for films for the first time, whereas previously everything had been improvised. Hari Haran felt that most TV aped western formats and standards. News was delivered by ‘guys in suits’ and was Delhi-centric. Similarly, film directors often sought recognition from western film festivals, whereas the real international impact of Indian cinema was in the third world - in Nigeria, Cameroon, Surinam, Malaysia and Singapore.
How could independent film makers contribute to the new media world? Hari Haran argued that people needed to be empowered to make films- as Vikram Sarabhai had attempted with the SITE experiment. Doordarshan was far too top-down in its approach; it was even reflected in the architecture of Mandi House. In the South, Sun TV had attempted to break the DD mould by giving every reporter a video camera and by showing marriages in Tirulnelveli and schools in Coimbatore. That had been a step in the right direction.
In his own work, he was now involved in an experiment to make film-making more transparent. He was filming the efforts of a former pharmaceutical sales manager to transform the fortunes of his village in Tamil Nadu and was doing it over a number of years. He had hired a VHS crew to film the filming and had later shown the film to the villagers, shot their reactions and cut them into the film. He was not doing the filming for a specific broadcast. It was part of a process of creating awareness- that filming is a continuous activity and that the end product is a reconstruction of time and space. His view was that audiences are far more sophisticated than media managers imagine.
Galadari hotel for lunch and Rupavahini
TO YOUNG ASIA TV
2000 ‘ TERRESTRIAL
BROADCASTERS AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST’ This dinner, with guest speakers
Rohan Edrisinha, Director,Centre for Policy Alternatives and Nalaka
Gunawardene, Director, Television Trust for the Environment, Asia/Pacific
region, had to be abandoned because of the imposition of curfew in
Colombo. Below is a summary of Nalaka Gunawardene’s prepared address.
One of the reasons why innovation in broadcasting was not so common was that it carried certain risks- the hazards of innovation. There was a fear of making mistakes; in Sri Lanka this had held back live phone in programme on radio and TV for several years after the technology was available. And for over 60 years the Sinhala news on Sri Lankan radio was presented using a written Sinhala style – different from the far more friendly spoken Sinhala style. Sirasa Radio and Sirasa TV had started to present news in colloquial Sinhala and others had scrambled to imitate it. Satellite TV had introduced new formats in place of the half-hour or one hour programme slots that documentary filmmakers were used to. The truth was that the average viewing time for such programmes had shrunk to just 4 minutes. We had to recognise this as the new reality. There was no point in having public interest programmes that no one watched. We had to defy convention. Some of the new privately owned television channels in Sri Lanka were doing that. The state channel Rupavahini had also introduced a programme three years earlier called ‘The Internet to your Home’. Initially the broadcasting mandarins had questioned the whole relevance of the programme. But the response had been overwhelming. The issue was relevant also to the struggle for press freedom. At a recent meeting of the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka to mark World Press Freedom Day he had recalled how new technologies had completely changed the nature of newsgathering and media dissemination in the 1990s. He argued that these technologies offered new opportunities for consolidating press freedom. But a section of the audience had thought that this was irrelevant when Sri Lankan journalists were fighting for much more urgent issues of survival. The entire media sector had to come to terms with the Internet. As Arthur Clarke had said, the best policy was engagement with the new media so that we could exploit the inevitable.