SOUTH ASIAN BROADCASTING
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Welcoming the delegates, Edmund Marsden, Director for South Asia, The British Council (Delhi) said that when he had been asked shortly after he arrived in India if the British Council would host a conference on South Asian Broadcasting in the satellite age, he had been delighted to accept for a number of reasons. First of all before coming to India, he had been closely associated with the Global Knowledge Initiative, an initiative taken originally by the World Bank and the Government of Canada which was concerned to understand and to remedy the causes of the growing digital and the information divide between the North and South. A number of meetings and conferences on this subject had been set up, most recently a meeting in Delhi organized jointly with the National Informatics Centre on the requirement to set up a more effective knowledge network in South Asia. A lot of discussion was focused on the Internet and the reasons for the slow growth of connectivity. But there was also a great deal of discussion about broadcasting, not least on the importance of developing community broadcasting. And he welcomed the opportunity to host a meeting to discuss the relationship between the state and the community particularly in terms of broadcasting.
He noted that this
conference, which drew people from throughout the South Asia Region,
coincided with the publication of William Crawley's & David Page's
book on broadcasting in South Asia, 'Satellites over South Asia published
by Sage Publications. The book had been developed with the support
of a team of twelve researchers in the South Asia Region, and provided
the research base for this meeting, and for a documentary film on
the same subject by Nupur Basu , which had been shown publicly for
the first time the previous evening. Edmund Marsden recommended both
the film and the book to the audience. He had also anxious to support
this event as it had the imprimatur and the financial support of the
Ford Foundation. He welcomed Dr Gowher Rizvi the Director of the Ford
Foundation in Delhi, and Afsan Chowdhury, Director of the PANOS (South
Asia) Institute based in Kathmandu, who had also supported this conference.
He singled out for special mention three people in the audience who
had come from outside the region to a conference which would be discussing
the whole issue of broadcasting and the public interest, and the relationship
with the state. It was very appropriate to be able to welcome Mr Mandla
Langa Head of the South African Broadcasting Regulatory Authority,
who had travelled a great distance from South Africa to be at the
conference. He welcomed two contributors from United Kingdom, Liz
Forgan, who as a journalist, broadcaster, writer had played a very
significant role with Jeremy Isaacs in the development of Channel
4, one of the most creative, innovative and from her account enjoyable
experiences in broadcasting that one could possibly imagine; and Professor
James Curran, a leading media academic in United Kingdom. He extended
a warm welcome to all of those who had come from countries outside
India within the region.
speaking on the behalf of the global family of the Panos Institute
congratulated the Media South Asia Group on the occasion of the publication
of the book 'Satellites over South Asia and organising the conference
to discuss the role of the broadcasting media in the region. Panos
felt that the role of the media in general and development in particular
were extremely significant in the information driven world. The organisation
subscribed without hesitation to the idea of pluralism in the media,
and the right to discussion and debate on issues affecting people's
lives, with special focus on representing the voices of the marginalised
and the under privileged. Panos did not carry ideological baggage
but it did believe that censorship and pluralism could not work together.
State censorship had declined in the world but Panos was also concerned
that social or economic censorship may replace it. The broadcasting
world must be able to recognise that pluralism could survive only
if the value of the representing the interests of all segments of
society were upheld. If primarily commercial factors decided what
goes on air this would mean a higher form of censorship, in the name
of the market. In this fresh new world the market place had become
increasingly dominant. Pluralism had to be protected. In conclusion
Afsan Chowdhury said that broadcasting-policy makers at the conference
between them had the concerns of 1/5th of mankind to reflect upon;
he was looking forward to discussion on issues which they would all
feel were urgent and significant.
The purpose of this
conference was not to publicise his and David Page's book. The book
had covered some of these issues under discussion, but he expected
no punches to be pulled during the conference over the next two days.
The participants in the conference represented a very wide range of
experience and knowledge of issues facing broadcasting in South Asia,
Their very strong views would overshadow what had seemed to some critics
the understated ones in the book. The focus on the first day would
broadly be on the output of the commercial satellite channels; the
second day more on the role and output of the state broadcasting Channels.
the satellite revolution : the practitioners speak
M J Akbar said that the importance of the subject was obvious enough. Television and the broadcast media in the last 10 B 15 years had travelled independently searching for answers as problems had cropped up, using individual ingenuity rather than structured responses. After 10 years of trial and error, there were some big successes and lots of big failures to set down. It was time to look both at the last 10 B 15 years and at the next ten in which he personally felt there would be a far bigger revolution.
There had been a transitional phase, in which people took what would be called old television and made it new television. Increasing privatisation even on State Television was one major issue. In the early phase 1992, -93, -94, Doordarshan collapsed because the establishment television could not match the excitement of Private Sector television. The private media were now becoming the establishment media; we did not know who was going to be the next challenger to the new establishment.
The other very interesting development was the maturing of content through events, particularly on News television. The coverage of Kargil enabled Indian television to reach its own heights. Election coverage over three or four general and state elections had enabled television to mature. The relationship between money, funding, profitability and content - the nature of equity - should be examined. It was good that legislation was being created out of experience; legislation that emerged out of an obsolescent ideology was less fruitful. The real problem with radio in India was its inability to generate returns. Either the cost of Radio had to come down to a point where it matched the revenue, or the revenue stream had to rise. It was foolish of government to set such high licence costs when the privatisation of radio initiative was taken. The radio market could not generate the revenue and all those who had bid for a licence were trying very hard to find somebody to take it off them.
that the media was created by people with lots of ego, but could not
be run by people with ego. Content on satellite television was often
becoming an extension of Indian cinema, of Bollywood. It was not developing
an independent existence even as an entertainment channel. In conclusion
he put forward two points; firstly that cable television had brought
in elements of criminal street wars; and secondly that the media imbalance
in South Asia was going to play a very important role. India was likely
to become a media, entertainment and information super power in the
Region, and this would have both a political impact and social consequences.
Satellite television had enabled certainly Indians and Pakistanis
to rediscover the fact that are both human and so much like each other.
The serials that emerge from both countries were so alike that they
defeated politicians who kept the two countries different.
Some channels might resist this because they had a political base. But electoral fortunes might determine how strongly they could continue to defy the corporatisation of the media. The other important problem was that television was oriented to the values of a privileged middle class. Television was sometimes justified as a middle class commodity. There was nothing wrong with that, but in a predominantly rural society like India, the paradigm had to be different. An imitative role model could develop into a demonstrably inimical relationship between what we see as rural India and urban India. The overwhelmingly rural population was bound to be concerned about the metropolis-centric, urban-centric, staple diet on television. It was bound to have its own reactions before long, perhaps in the medium term. Separatist movements were resurfacing again in the South; there was a resurgence of nationalisms and sub-nationalisms. A strong sense of cultural and social identity was coming to the fore.
Doordarshan was imitating the private satellite channels, in film-related programming and in the (some of them mindless) Quiz programmes and chat programmes. Sashi Kumar agreed with M.J.Akbar about the exciting things that are happening in the News. But this had reached saturation point.
The other matter of concern was the sheer inanity and sameness of the programmes on different channels. The language may be different but the programming is all the same. The programmes were being dumbed down and no intelligence was required by the viewer. This detracted from the whole initial excitement of opening up information on Television. He admitted that his own channel Asianet had not been very different, commercial compulsions had taken over. Media practitioners and those who respond to media were and should be concerned about how to respond to these compulsions.
On the regional channels,
there was a hybridisation, even bastardisation of language and culture.
Young anchors did not want to be seen speaking proper Tamil Malayalam
or Telugu. They relate to the viewer by speaking an anglicized version
of the language. Because television is a dominant medium and in a
social sense a dominant ideology, the distortion of language after
a time brings the language itself in peril. The language itself lapses
into the ridiculous, and this was happening with Hindi.
The obvious answer was that the state should do something to correct this problem, but Sashi Kumar argued that there was no role for the state in this. It was a more dangerous solution for there to be any form of legal intervention or policing of what the Cable Operator was distributing. But he did not rule out a situation where at least in the South separate channels might emerge and be distributed which air dissenting opinion. There was a constituency and the industry needed to think carefully about who draws a line where.
In conclusion, Sashi Kumar said that in an overall sense the satellite television revolution in India needed to be directed to the roots, and to belong to the people of India.
Thanking Sashi Kumar,
MJ Akbar said that the issue was not so much Anglicisation, but Americanisation.
The accents spread by television were American, but more fundamentally
television was providing a momentum to the English language. On the
other issues, he agreed that once market forces were allowed to determine
the nature of ownership and revenues, you could not impose some kind
of biblical morality on the process. Distribution was not just a fact
of life in the electronic media but in the print media as well. Television
as it sought to create or be creative was also a mirror. The Anglicisation
or Americanization was a two way process, happening both because of
television and without television. MJ Akbar then invited Malan the
News and Current Affairs Director of Sun TV, to reveal the secret
of Sun TV's success, underlining Sashi Kumar's valid point about the
importance of the South in the development of Indian television.
However Malan argued, there was an inherent weakness in the media. Almost all the satellite television channels are entertainment based. Entertainment is exciting in a way that News is not. We want to be excited by what we see. In the late 60s at a political conference, each speaker was used to speaking in city after city for an hour without Teleprompters or commercial breaks. Tens of thousands of people would pay to listen. No one would listen today. The consumer himself is responsible for this. In India the average adult changes station every 15 minutes. When a Director knows that most viewers are incapable of watching more than half a programme he responds by changing the entire nature of television in a bid to keep viewers rivetted. In 1970 a typical camera shot lasted 35 to 60 seconds, in 90s it last 10 seconds. Commercials are even more frenetic, often switching images after only 2 seconds. Television sound bites had been reduced to the point of absurdity. Forget about the interview subject who tells you what he thinks about the state of economy or the defence budget in ten lines. You have to find someone who can do it in five lines. One of the common charges was that bad news is good for television. TV inevitably emphasised violence, mayhem, death, destruction; it did not matter if you were talking about battles, riots, crime riots, as long as it was visual, dramatic and compelling. That's why News producers love wars and natural disasters. To understand why this happens, try putting yourself in the position of a television News Director. How do you make your show gripping? Do you show a computerised graph on the declining national crime rate or live footage of students pelting stones on a bus? Do you interview a small business owner who has created new jobs in the IT sector or a political extremist who is setting fire to business houses? The dictum of television News has become: A If it bleeds it leads@.
Malan then considered
the other charge that television encourages superficial and emotional
responses. But those who watched the taped broadcast of Monica Lewinsky
deposition during the Clinton impeachment proceedings, had not noticed
so much the substance of her conversation with Betty Curry. Men in
particular were watching her hairstyle, her weight, and the timbre
of her voice. In the 1970s, when TV news was launched, there used
to be a discussion in many homes after the News bulletin not on what
they heard but on the look, hairstyle, saree, the ear drops that the
anchor woman was wearing. Our love affair with television had led
to an obsession with appearance.
Malan said he was not trying to justify TV News becoming infotainment, but to defend his journalist colleagues. Journalists and news producers fulfil a public need and service as a professional group, with ethics based on the principles of informing society and keeping the public informed of events in the world around them. At the same time they must maximise their audience to create a successful commercial product. If they attempt in-depth coverage of News, especially complex issues or political news, they must be concise and entertaining. The answer is to put hard news into soft format. This infotainment is the inherent weakness of a commercial television medium. A public television channel, which is not dependent or the advertising agencies for its revenue, would probably be able to tackle it better.
Malan argued that the challenges ahead would come not from broadcasting but from a different genre. In India a computer-savvy and net friendly generation may take to the net rather than to television. The Tamil Nadu Government is laying fibre optic cable all around the state, with an idea to wire the entire state so that there will be kiosks everywhere to access the Internet. Thanks to the Singapore academicians and government, Tamil was the first Indian language to enter the Internet. It was probable that the future challenge may come from the Internet rather than from television.
In response to a question
from the Chair, Malan said that Sun TV was not a DMK channel. It had
integrated the four states that it served; its revenue came from the
viewership and to sustain the viewership you have to be democratic.
A channel could not afford to be aligned to one party. MJ
Akbar acknowledged what he described as a 'polite answer'.
He then invited Bhuvan Lall, as a 'champion of the North', to demolish
the arguments put forward by the 'heavy presence of the South'.
Satellite television had actually come in with the Asian games. At the same time within a year television had expanded right across the country using low power transmitters. The technical and programme quality of Doordarshan had been criticised for a long time. But during those 14 days of Asian games, performance was international quality. And these were the same government employees working in Doordarshan. There was a talent in Doordarshan then, and it was still there, waiting to be capitalised on.
had first come into India via the Gulf war. People had suddenly got
the idea of getting huge dishes, a form of Direct to Home (DTH) satellite
broadcasting. But Bhuvan Lall argued that the Indian government still
did not understand what DTH was. He had been one of those who started
watching CNN, because one channel of CNN looked much better than the
two channels of Doordarshan. Although it was all news about cats stuck
in trees in Montana in USA, they had watched it. For a while the Americans
had thought the Indians are going to watch all the American programmes
like ABaywatch@, ABold and Beautiful@ But it came to a stage when
they realised that only one percent of the country was watching ABaywatch@
in comparison to an ordinary Hindi film, which the whole country would
want to watch.
Bhuvan Lall went on
to talk about technologies that were going to come into India in the
next few years. DTH had been talked about from a very long time. It
had first been mentioned in1964 at a UN conference in United States,
in which they said there should be direct to home television for taking
education to home across the world. The Indian government had put
out some guidelines. He argued that television had to aim at educating
Indians in villages without electricity and without schools. Television
was the best and cheapest route to educating the country and other
parts of South Asia. There had to be a large investment in educational
Television and though it could be in different formats it had to be
made both educational in nature and commercially viable. Looking at
emerging technologies, Bhuvan Lall said that with digital terrestrial
TV around the corner a new era was opening for educational television,
which would include interactive television. The Indian Broadcasting
Bill, which was supposed to be passed 5 years ago, had it been passed
would have been completely out of date. The Communications Commission
of India was a much better move than introducing a Bill, which in
five years time would be not be valid.
Before adjourning for a break M.J Akbar recalled that it was the 8thanniversary of what he saw as the birth of the Television News (8 December 1992). No single image had had a greater impact on Indian minds, events and politics than the image of the destruction of the Babri Mosque - (at the time of Mrs Gandhis assassination (in 1984) television in its present form was not quite born). The video image had been circulated two days after it happened, a revolution in Indian television, and eight years later the story was still not over.
session (2) 'Assessing the satellite revolution: counterpoints'
Andrew, taking the chair
for this session, began with a Brazilian parable. A small boy was
watching television. He had the remote control in his hand, switching
on from channel to channel. His father walks in and says, 'Son it's
been the most terrible day of my life. My secretary quit, my car was
stolen and my office was ransacked.' The little boy looks at his Daddy
and says 'Daddy if things are so bad why don't you just change the
channel.' Television today- especially satellite television - was
a consciousness industry, Father Andrew said. Listing the issues which
were under discussion, he noted that competition was widening the
rich-poor divide. How could satellite television help in this process?
The global village may not exist, but the global and cultural market
was often a one way market. The satellite channels were displacing
the public sphere with total entertainment. Reality was shot in bits
and pieces and not as reality itself. Public broadcasting was a matter
of concern above the need to educate the public to participate. He
introduced Mr Rathi Kant Basu the CEO of Broadcast Worldwide and former
CEO of Star News, as a man who would try to bridge the gap between
media practitioners and those who would be expressing counter points.
Chairman Dawn Group, Karachi, confessed that as a guest in
another country, in judging the line to follow between diplomacy and
truth, diplomacy always lost. He said he was known for telling truths
for Pakistan, and wanted to share some cruel truths about the Indian
satellite revolution. Some of them represented genuine concern about
trends in Indian society itself. He noted the unstated political boundaries
for satellite broadcasting in this region. There was an unwritten
line which satellite television does not transcend too often in this
region. For example Rupert Murdoch had eased BBC Television off the
Asia satellite when China began to grumble. The agreement by national
governments in South Asia to let in satellite television into their
regions had created a waste land. It was wonderful to see the growth
of regional broadcasting. But its success as a commercial entity was
dependent on the size of the market. Size had become the sole consideration
for the survival of culture. If a market had to be as large as Tamil
Nadu or Andhra Pradesh or Kerala to be able to create successful regional
broadcasting on satellite, Nagaland might find it difficult; or in
Pakistan - Sind or Baluchistan; or communities in southern Bangladesh.
Their national experience was no less relevant than that of Tamil
Nadu or any other area. But their economic size is not viable for
the satellite market. Consumer purchasing power is the key to the
satellite revolution, accentuating the urban rural divide.
Hameed Haroon gave as an example the point at which as he travelled across the Thar desert in Sindh he could see that a wind instrument changed a note or a sur. The change reflected the accretion of two to three thousand years of history, of communication, contact, of a way of understanding each other. Music from Jaisalmer was part of Sindh's heritage though not recognised in India as such. But the music was recognized as a vocabulary of communication within the region. He wondered if the same understanding would exist in10, 20 or 30 years from now. The satellite revolution, like the national broadcasters, was forcing the peoples of south Asia away from each other. As an educated person in Pakistan he still could not understand up to 50% of the language of news broadcasts on Zee TV or Star TV. The same might be true for an Indian watching Pakistan's national broadcaster PTV. Satellite television was not bridging that gap. It was a genuine concern that young people in their teens and twenties are like some kind of stateless MTV or Channel V androids who you see in discotheques and clubs in Delhi's hotels after 11 o'clock at night. They were 'parodies of material culture'. We would be in deep trouble if those priorities become the mainstream of a social life style by which we define ourselves. He would be frightened to see what kind of cross-cultural influences the 21st century might bring.
Father Joe Andrew introduced Pratima Kulkarni, a film-maker from Mumbai who had produced programmes for both the Hindi and Marathi market, to talk about how the new media market is treating regional cultures, specifically Marathi culture.
addressed the question of the quality of regional television. Her
personal experience with a Marathi programme, which was aired on Doordarshan,
had led to her to doubt the very existence of regional television.
She had waited for six years to get a series broadcast which had been
made in 1990. The situation had changed drastically in that time,
and the time slot that had been booked was no longer attractive to
advertisers. Depressed by this experience she had moved to the DD
Hindi channel but even in Hindi things were not easy. Everything had
to be market driven but nobody seemed to know what the market wanted.
Subsequently, with five Marathi channels, producers and film makers
were confused, and the channels were not sure what the audience wanted.
Neither channel controllers nor producers wanted the same pattern
for a Marathi audience as the Hindi channels were providing. Kulkarni
had suggested a rural theme but this was rejected on the grounds that
no one wanted it. Today she did not have to cater to the Hindi-speaking
'cowbelt'. She knew what the audience she was addressing wanted and
the music that would appeal to them. Maharashtra had a very long tradition
of theatre. Her own background in the theatre gave her an insight
into the audience's responses, and this experience could be useful
for television. Much depended on how the story was going to be told.
Whether it was a Hindi or a regional programme, if it becomes a hit
everyone wanted to make copies. But often these did not access the
emotional appeal of the original and were not successful. Pratima
Kulkarni said that in her 8 years of television experience she had
never met a single marketing person professionally. There should be
more dialogue between the marketing and the programme maker, to find
out what the market wanted. She concluded on a positive note, by saying
that if it were not for satellite TV and regional TV, she would be
out of work.
Tara Sinha said that the key underlying concept for any activity whether it is commercial or non-commercial was that it must meet the criterion of profitability, not necessarily in terms of making money but measured in terms of performance. You must deliver a return on the investment of time, effort and others through performance. If you do not, in the context of both radio and television you get switched off. Audience data now covered 86% of India; but we had to go beyond the concept of 'reach' to that of meeting the needs and aspirations of the audience. Knowing what your audience want was a minimum requirement in any professional activity. Television in reality was changing people's aspirations. Villagers do not necessary want to be shown as villagers dancing around a tractor to sell them something. They would like to be shown wearing blue jeans and a T Shirt because they too have aspirations. 'If they do brush their teeth to make their teeth healthier I think that is very positive'.
The most prominent aspiration was education, and television in its own way was an educative medium, not necessarily a medium for a school classroom but in other ways. The last 10 years had seen the emergence of much more self confident, better groomed and extraordinarily well presented, Indian women. It was not just the packaging. She talks, she stands taller, and it was not just the glitterati or the 'chattering classes'. The ticket collector in the 'Shatabdi’, the Indian express train service, a very nicely groomed lady, was certainly not upper middle class or from a narrow segment of society. She had more poise than the men, because the advertising for men to improve their looks came after that of women. The men are just about catching up. Progress was inevitable. The task was to improve the effectiveness of what was good, and to reduce the impact of what may be negative.
Since television first came, despite a fear that people would sit, drink their beer and watch television, in fact book reading had gone up, the emergence of local musical societies and theatre had increased. Every Indian, every South Asian, whether they are rich or poor, so called literate and educated - wanted to have a little joy and improvement in their lives, especially to provide their children with education.
Tara Sinha took issue
with the view that television has done nothing exceptional. In the
old days of advertising the Hindi feature film drew audiences. With
satellite and regional television there were more segmented areas.
Advertisers could pick and choose and match the audience and the programme.
This could be a major tool for educating, entertaining, and instructing
people in doing the right things for a better life, but not by preaching
at them. She recalled her impression as a student in England of the
radio drama series The Archers', which had put a lot of helpful things
into the story line. Indian television had tried this with the series
AHum log@ but this had not really delivered what was intended.
The skills of marketing companies and advertising agencies and the cooperation of the media could be used to produce really effective campaigns to make people lives better.The Ad council was an excellent role model; a collaborative venture supported to some extent financially by the advertiser. When you try to make people change and adopt new things you have to repeat the message. The discipline of advertising was designed to do that, and professionalism was important. A regulatory obligation might serve a useful purpose. But the development of regional channels would multiply dramatically the effectiveness of television as a change agent. Regional markets were certainly extremely viable in India. Marketing companies have realized that India is like Europe: a federation of TV states. India had through history internalized and Indianised the global influence. So MTV and Channel V tried to give global music but quickly succumbed to giving us Hindi Pop Music. Young people were setting the pace.
The challenge was to think positively. Special training was needed to improve the professionalism of running television channels. An advertiser was only as successful as his audience respects him and perceives him. Father Andrew had said globalization was a threat, hijacking entertainment. Her response was that people whose lives are generally very hard should not be deprived of entertainment If in that context you could bring change, that was a challenge we would want to accept.
Andrew introduced Shailaja Bajpai, the media and television
critic of the Indian Express and author of a study on the impact of
television on children, to examine the issues from a critic's view
point and reflect on ways on which civil society can make its voice
Competition should give choice and more variety, but it was not working that way. Competition was contracting instead of expanding choice. Imitation did not work, Shailaja Vajpai argued. We did not know what we wanted until we got it; and once we got it we did not know what o do with it. The channels seemed to be profiting from this sameness.
In conclusion, Shailaja Vajpai said that Indian television had reached a level at which the public, even if only the middle class, liked to interact. So far this was possible only in terms of games shows or quizzes but it seemed to show that the public did want to be part of this satellite revolution. We had to address the question whether the public expected TV to confirm them in their worldview or to change it. The most obvious dilemma was in current affairs. In the 'Kargil War', or in coverage of Kashmir had the TV channels been trying to influence the audience into only looking at events from a patriotic Indian point of view? In the hijack case, there had been complaints that the electronic media, by portraying the so-called public point of view, put pressure on the government to release the terrorists or militants. An important question for the public was whether they had been asked how they felt.
In the discussion that followed, a speaker from the Times of India argued that the consumer should be given what he wanted. The predictability of the TV medium was its attraction. It was a creative medium and should not depend any more than painting on market research to find out if it was going to sell or not. She said that a producer must know the pulse of the people without necessarily having to consult the marketing people. She thought that MTV had turned the channel around because they really understood what young people wanted, and those in the 25-40 age group who felt themselves to be young. Pratima Kulkarni replied that if she was catering to a channel which had commissioned her to make a programme she had to follow their dictates. Sandeep Sachdeva asked whether wrestling on TV was not giving an impression to children that would encourage violence. Father Joe Andrew said it was a dream to pretend to know what the consumer wants.
Answering the point that in the fine arts a painter does not need to do research, Tara Sinha said that the audience for the fine artist was never so extensive as to put pressure on the artist to interact. Market research was carried out to be utilised. In an environment where you want to produce results learning and fine tuning was very useful. A questioner suggested that TV channels were not serious in advocating change. They used the celebration of International Women's day for advertising and selling cosmetics. An episode of a continuing serial had been taken off the air on that day because it had a scene where a man kicked around his wife or girl friend. The producer had been told to keep it for the following week. A questioner took up Hameed Haroon's point that satellite TV did not address the needs or the reality of small communities, arguing that the size of the medium made it incapable of delivering that message. Radio could be of greater cultural relevance to smaller communities. Hameed Haroon said it was wrong to confuse the Indian economic decentralization consumer boom, with the mechanism being deployed for broadcasting channels in India and South Asia. He argued that the initial high cost of satellite broadcasting meant that it had to deal with large audiences. The cost was high because national broadcasters wished to make it expensive for their competitors. Several thousand people killed in Kashmir had not made the governments of Pakistan and India rethink their broadcasting policies. A major war over territorial annexation in Kargil did. Hameed Haroon envisaged an alternative universe in which terrestrial television might create a more healthy mosaic in which the South Asian community could participate and draw strength from its diversity. Neena Raut (Doordarshan Mumbai) spoke of a new daily live dial-in programme on Doordarshan in Mumbai targeted mainly at women, in which experts deal with social problems. The issues covered a range from child adoption to divorce, from AIDS to Leprosy. This was not based on market research but it was what people wanted from television. Agha Nasir speaking as someone who had been in the business of broadcasting all his life argued that commercial channels were sacrificing professional standards. Programme making and production decisions had been shifted from the programme makers to the marketing people. Now the only criterion was that a programme should make money; programme quality was the casualty.
session (3) Feedback from the workshops and discussion
Tara Sinha added that the group had been encouraged to hear from Neena Raut of the Mumbai DD kendra about its work in developing effective interractive regional programmes. These programmes deployed experts to deal with people’s problems and had been so popular that they were being moved to evening slots. Members of the group had expressed the view regional TV should respect ‘the sanctity of regional languages’; Mrinal Pandey, the Hindi-language broadcaster, pressed the need to use clear, properly constructed, grammatical Hindi and to avoid mixtures of Hindi and English. Tara Sinha said that there was a feeling that regional networks had much to offer and that it would be useful if those working in regional TV could get together to exchange views and to work out how to provide regional audiences with the kind of TV which would add value to their lives.
Chinmoy Mutsuddi, reporting Satellite TV and India’s neighbours, said there had been agreement that India’s neighbours were experiencing ‘ a sort of Indian cultural invasion’ but it was felt to be a passing phase. Viewers were not idiots; they were quite capable of coming to their own conclusions. The group had also debated why Bangladesh TV or Nepal TV had not been able to attract viewers in India. They agreed that their programmes had to improve. Pakistani participants made the point that previously PTV dramas had been very popular in India; now it is the reverse and part of the reason may be the quality of Pakistani programmes. The group had looked at the possibilities of programme exchanges - in news and non-news fields. Representatives of Zee TV and Sun TV had said that if they received recorded cassettes from Nepal or Bangladesh they might be able to use them. Farhad Mahmud of Ekushey TV was interested to develop a relationship of this sort with ZTV. It was agreed that the SAARC programme exchange had failed to generate any interest. Programmes that addressed one national audience were not necessarily interesting to another. Subjects needed to be appealing and the quality had to be good. The group thought there was scope for programmes on common themes – e.g. on the empowerment of women or childrens’ rights - in which all South Asian countries participate. Public service broadcasting had also been discussed. One participant had asked why private channels should bother about public service broadcasting but the group agreed that private companies also have to serve the same public.
Akhila Sivadas summed up the discussion in the workshop on ‘Representing the public’. It had been agreed that in any broadcasting process, the viewer has to carve out his or her own stake or niche. The question was: how to ensure that certain standards of dialogue and lobbying are established. To look at this issue, the group had examined examples of problematic ads and depictions and discussed how to contest them with relevant experts. The depictions had covered particularly the poor, who are often depicted as lackeys of the rich, and the disabled, who are the butt of petty, trivial humour. A spokesman for the Advertising Standards Council for India had supported the role of viewers’ groups; public opinion had an important role to play in establishing discipline and self-regulation in the industry. Rakesh Datta, spokesman for the Independent Cable Operators Association, argued that the cable operators and the viewers had a lot in common. Joydeep Gupta, a media analyst, said that even if the Communication Commission of India was set up, there should also be ‘ something like a Programme Standards Council of India to hear viewers complaints and suggestions on the kind of remedial measures required.
The workshop had done an exercise with delegates and with members of a viewers’ forum established by the Centre for Advocacy and Research to look at a set of problematic ads. It was agreed that in any viewing situation, there is a lot of viewer responsibility, a need for parents to educate their children and for people to be media-savvy. But there was much of concern in advertisements, particularly those either using children inappropriately or targeting children. Some of these advertisements even had paedophilic overtones. There was a vibrant discussion around these issues and an agreement that there was a need for more media literacy. However it was not just the media that was at fault; cultural norms in the wider community also needed to be addressed and more effective research and advocacy was required. Much of the research done by industry or by academics allows no scope for viewers to talk to each other. This was why CFAR had set up its viewers’ fora and was arguing for the strengthening of viewer networks and interractions.
The wider discussion began with a comment from Huma Mustafa Baig, a producer-director from Pakistan, who said that if the challenge was extended to them, there were many ways of making public service programmes and producers would respond. Shanta Gokhale said the problem was that fiction was expensive and there was very little money for regional television. Regional television had some of the finest producers, all waiting to do good programmes if the resources for them were made available. But such programmes may not generate enough advertising to support their budgets. Asked her opinion on the role of the market, Tara Sinha said she thought that if it continued to develop and to incorporate the smaller towns, it should make better regional programmes viable. But it had to be professional - otherwise it would not work. Vir Sanghi made the point that in south India regional channels were making a lot of money and their production values were often better. Malan said that every market has got its own rules; quality is judged by what your competitors provide. In South India production values have not been inferior to any. Sun TV enjoyed successful market share so the advertiser is willing to meet the producer's budget. Dr Abhijit Pathak, a former television journalist with Doordarshan now a professor of mass communication, expressed concern that the priority given to visual material has distorted journalistic values on television News. Analytical ability has been sacrificed. Challenged on this, Dr Pathak clarified that he meant that editorial judgement was lacking and that editors failed to follow stories up. There is a lot of information without much analysis, or instant analysis when noone really knows what has happened. Rakesh Khar (Zee TV) thought there was a genuine concern about public broadcasting. For example, population was a very dry subject. Certain things did not lend themselves to television but the issue was how they were treated. Zee news had turned India’s 'One Billionth Baby' into a major event and won TRPs close to Lara Dutta becoming Miss India or Miss World. A straight discussion in the studio would not sell. But the constituencies of advertisers and viewers were interlinked. Television had brought events into Indian drawing rooms that probably would have taken much longer to reach them by other means. There was a requirement and an appetite for information.
Vir Sanghvi observed that there was a danger in substituting speculation and instant analysis for real information. Any television journalist knows that it is important to be first in the picture. Contemporary television in India was a reaction to what happened on Doordarshan for 40 years. There had always been an editorial view - a government view - on any event. In the private television sector in India the reporter's first view was being brought to the public. There were plenty of programmes in all channels which would provide an analysis. Malan said that this haste was a global phenomenon. In a 24 hours news channel, news was constantly being updated; news was followed by analysis to give a complete picture. Lopa Banerjee commented that although India had independent news media for the first time, in a conflict the independent news media adopted the same line as the national news media. There was never really independent news reporting. She rejected the excuse that this was true of all international channels - a global phenomenon. The news should be about the public interest. Rakesh Khar argued that the television channels had to follow the public mood. It was again a marketing philosophy. If the public mood coincided with the government line then that had to be reflected. News was about the interest of the public. The so-called failure to give the other side of the story over Kargil was because that was what the public wanted and reporters are themselves part of the public. Zee TV had a problem in the flow of information from certain areas within the area of conflict. Zee did not have the luxury of hosting a bureau in Pakistan; if it had, it would be much better placed to get information and live pictures from Pakistan to support the opposing point of view. Abhilasha Kumari (Mass Communication Centre B Jamia Millia) said this brought into question the whole premise of the private media, that it provided an objective point of view different from the state viewpoint. If we were all going to be jingoistic because the nation wants to be jingoistic the basic premise did not hold good. Nationalism as perceived at a particular point in time may not in a long-term perspective be true nationalism. And if one is to make the comparison the print media comes out much better than the broadcast media. Lopa Banerjee said that in the South the Hindu during the Kargil war had a very clear editorial line but that did not stop it from representing news as it was. Sun TV on the other had the same sort of editorial line and news line as the rest of the visual media. Malan said that that truth was fragmented. In a situation of conflict between India and Pakistan, an Indian channel was bound to take a line in accordance with the wishes of its viewers. Vir Sanghvi observed that on one side people are saying that television was a mass medium at a time of a great patriotic upsurge. If you did not go with that tide your viewer would reject you. On the other people were saying it was not your business to go with the viewer but to report the truth. Tara Sinha said that there were certain times - and this was not unique to India but happened all around the world - when there is an important national interest. A negative reporting format - whatever the truth- may demoralize the people fighting on the front line and their families.Vir Sanghvi commented that the same argument was used in the Vietnam war, but that the American media had rejected it and published the truth.
Farhad Mahmud (Bangladesh) said it was not a matter of there being a government guideline. We had to accept that news was also a product that was meeting market needs. All over the world news was a marketable commodity. But Ekushey, as a fairly new entrant in the media industry had found that news credibility could be built up if it did not succumb to the market. Maybe the supremacy of the market had been stressed for too long and had taken over the element of News that was once considered to be protected from control by market forces. Eric Fernando, DG Sri Lanka BC, spoke of the military censorship imposed in Sri Lanka on all the media at the time of the fall of Elephant Pass. The government media dished out the News, but the goals were achieved. This reminded him of when Walter Cronkite was once asked if he had ever lied in his career. He said ‘No, but I have had occasion to rearrange the truth according to national needs’. Malan asked if there were a war between India and Bangladesh what line would Tara TV and Bangladesh TV take? Farhad Mahmud said ‘we are too young to say’, but what Ekushey so far had found was that the channel’s news was seen as objective and credible. This was one of the reasons that its news was the highest revenue earning programme segment. Waruna Karunatilake (Journalist B Sri Lanka) said that those working in the satellite television stations had defended themselves on the basis that the people had a choice; people were no longer forced to watch the government channel. But now it was being argued that in news there is no choice when there is a conflict between countries outside the borders. He wanted to know how they would cover conflict within the country. It was not sufficient to defend themselves on the grounds that viewers had a choice of 100 channels. All the television stations had taken a similar line on the Kargil issue. Rakesh Khar said that one issue discussed was whether by showing prominently the concern of the relatives of those who were on the hijacked plane Zee TV may have influenced the decision to release the terrorists. To put the Kargil issue into perspective, it was about 18 months since that had happened, so we could be a little more academic about the discussion. It was the first war with television reporters who had never really seen war face to face. A lot of lessons had been learnt after the events were over. But at that time it was not just the public mood. Body bags were coming back. There were relief funds going everywhere. At that point of time could the channel really afford to go and say ‘OK, let’s go across to the Pakistan and ask them how they feel? There were body bags probably there too, but they were representing different people. Indira Man Singh asked how many watched Star News? There was an attempt to go across the border and see what is happening but it was not easy. Reporters could get a lot from the public but not from the government. Government spokesmen were crafty in what they said when they knew it was meant for television. So it was not really correct reporting. Neena Raut (Doordarshan Mumbai) spoke of the reporting of communal riots in Maharashtra 10 years before. There had been riots every year on Shiva Jayanti ie. Sivaji’s birthday. She had scheduled a film on Shivaji but because of the riots she had stopped the film and shown something else. Next day all the newspaper Marathi newspapers accused Doordarshan of bias. But her stand was that we are not yet very mature, we could not see issues as only historical. Were we mature enough as viewers to allow things to be said which are against the country?. Nirupuma Sarma asked Rakesh Khar what was the level of interest and commitment from Satellite channels towards public service broadcasting, and what was the role of corporate sector in sponsoring these kind of programmes? He said that programmers dealing with public service issues had not understood that the television medium has a certain dynamic. Instead of a 24 minute documentary format, which does not sell, we needed to go towards live interactive programming, in which the issue of the girl child is raised in real life cases. Television should not perpetuate the obvious stereotype. Akhila Sivadas said that Zee television had introduced Beyond the Headlines to take on issues of civil society; there were spaces in which issues were being taken up and international agencies could cue into them. But there needed to be more effective dialogue between the aspirations of the social sector and the needs of the channels. There was a lot of stereotyping and regression. Programme makers were affected by bogeys of various kinds and public pressures could affect programmes. But there was very rarely a meaningful feedback process and it was all very amateur. The whole area of research and understanding of audience reception was crucial not only for programmers but also for the advertisers. Ashish Sen, from his experience working with an NGO in Bangalore, said that the social sector needed to exploit the existing spaces constructively. He thought the charge that private channels did not take up issue-based marketing was not true. His organisation made a weekly programme called Daricha for which they had to pay to have it transmitted on Doordarshan; but they were getting free space on private channels on the issue of child rights. Dr Sreedhar (Indira National Open University) said that he was offering organisations working with women's empowerment, and development communicators an opportunity to run their software free of cost as public service broadcasting. But nobody was willing to do that, on the grounds that his channel Gyan Darshan was invisible. They want to go to Zee and Star only. But the channel's visibility would improve if they gave the software. When there is visibility they want money. Akhila Sivadas agreed that this was a valid point that needed attention. Col. Khare (Indus Ind Media & Communication) outlining the range of the cable operation run by the Hinduja organisation, argued that as technologies converged cable was the most effective medium both for storing and replaying software, and for bringing fast reactions from viewers. Indira Man Singh said that Star TV did take up a lot of social issues in India matters. But when asked how audiences reacted to the programme, she said it was the only Star programme that did not attract advertising. Rakesh Khar said the same was true of Zee’s Beyond the Headllines. Vijay Menon asked if it was possible to combine the educational potential and entertainment value of satellite and cable television? According to Malan, it was too early to combine these two requirements into one channel. The viewer will be given the option of watching news on one channel, entertainment on another, or in due course a socially committed development channel. Farhad Mahmud said it was unrealistic to force certain types of programming onto the viewers. But we have to consider why the private sector should have anything to do with public service broadcasting. There are pragmatic reasons - to keep ahead of the competition. There is also an argument to say that a degree of public service broadcasting can give a channel an edge over the others, because viewers appreciate it. Tara Sinha said that broadcasters can certainly combine education with entertainment - there were examples from India, Latin America and elsewhere - but it had to be done without preaching.
1800 Reception hosted by the Mr Edmund Marsden, Director, The British Council.
2000-2100 Screening of film 'Michael Jackson comes to Manikganj', directed by Nupur Basu
Saturday 9 December 2000
Open session (4) National television in the satellite age
William Crawley welcomed
Mr Jaipal Reddy as Chairman for the morning session on National television
in the satellite age. He recalled the key part Mr Reddy had played
as Minister of Information in 1997 in the development of Broadcasting
Institutions in India; and as someone who been engaged in all issues
to do with media since then.
Agha Nasir thanked the organisers of the conference for inviting him to participate and providing him a chance to visit Delhi after 12 years. In 1987 he and his wife were shopping in Palika Bazar when he found in a video parlour a list of 'new arrivals of television plays from Pakistan'. There were about ten plays and serials listed, one of which had been introduced only the previous week. The shopkeeper had an arrangement whereby programmes broadcast from Lahore were recorded in Amritsar and passed on the next day. At that time, satellite television had not yet surfaced. Plays on Pakistan Television were immensely popular not only in India but in the whole region, and he and his colleagues in PTV were very proud to be producing quality television. Since then things had changed.
Television was introduced
in Pakistan in 1964 and grew fast. It monopolized the media scene
- again like radio - with officially certified truth. Both radio and
television continued to suffer from low credibility. With the advent
of satellite TV, PTV's monopoly came to an end. However, PTV continued
to be in comfortable position as Cable still had limited reach in
Pakistan. A large percentage of the urban lower middle class and most
of the viewers in rural area continued to watch terrestrial television.
There were three national channels, namely PTV Network, PTV world and Channel 3. PTV effectively controls all three channels following the annexation of the semi independent STN in 1998. Thus, there was still a monopoly at the national level. Satellite transmission in third world countries like Pakistan had been received with both hope and fear. The communication boom while bringing the world closer together had also sought to impose a global culture. Satellite television had cut through much that was enshrined in the value system and morality of the entire human race, giving rise to an unidentified culture. A free flow of information in its true sense should be welcomed by all. But to use this freedom to promote only one point of view and to encourage biased ideas suited to the national interest only of dominant players could make today's information world as harmful as censorship. It could sometimes seriously jeopardize the government’s efforts to control the law and order situation. Sometimes, said Agha Nasir, we know it is better not to speak than to speak and cause bloody clashes. But in the free for all situation, which the satellite era had introduced, developing countries were finding it increasingly difficult to function without being subjected to close scrutiny by foreign channels operated by people having very little knowledge about the countries under the camera. The new television channels had destroyed peace of mind and increased the temptation of the glamorous life, especially through the commercials. Commercial radio and television had become more like a market place or a shopping centre where programmes were conceived only with a view to making money.
But Agha Nasir also saw something positive in these changes. Access to coverage from across the continent free from the local buyers had reduced dependence on the national media. The urge to hear the truth about political developments was to a great deal being satisfied. A free flow of information had pressurized the national policy makers to seriously review and revise their rigid media policies. Satellite transmission had also provided an opportunity for healthy competition. It had compelled the state broadcasters to improve their performance and make them accountable. The satellite age had turned the world into a global village in two senses of the term. It had given several options to viewers and had also broadened the horizon of journalists, broadcasters and writers. It had made information backed up by visual images, instantly available in the remotest corner of the world.
To meet this challenge, the state electronic media had to assume a dual role both as a commercial broadcaster as well as maintaining responsibilities for quality public service programmes. The people need to be treated as citizens and not as consumers. TV was a public service institution and if it operated only on commercial considerations it would be a disservice to the nation. Under the changed environment PTV could not be isolated from the rest of the media and policy formulation had to take into consideration new realities. The Pakistan government had realised this need. Committees had been set up by the government to make recommendations as to how the maximum autonomy could be granted to the state broadcasters, enabling them to compete with planned private channels.
The enactment of a law to regulate the cable television service was another important development. The Telecommunication Authority of Pakistan had been given this assignment. Even more important was the decision to establish a regulatory authority for media and broadcast organization (called RAMBO) to regulate establishment and operation of electronic media in the private sector. He believed that the government would also soon allow uplinking from Pakistani territory for all broadcasters.
Liberating electronic media from government control by opening it to the private sector would be a revolutionary step, in line with democratic norms of freedom of expression and in tune with current international trends. The future of the electronic media in Pakistan lay in autonomy and freedom from the kind of state control to which it had been subjected since independence. Private entrepreneurs had to be encouraged but state run TV had to improve its ability to fulfil its public service responsibility more efficiently. It was incumbent on the state broadcasters to safeguard the public interest and ensure that commercialization does not take over entirely. In conclusion Agha Nasir said with the growth of satellite TV, the media was changing fast. Computers were changing even faster and viewers in the region would be receiving multimedia direct to home services sooner than expected. No government could block the multitude of television signals. And in the end it would be the wisdom and taste of the viewer alone which would separate the grain from the chaff . Only the ultimate truth of superior culture could survive.
Neer Bikram Shah, former Managing Director of Nepal TV, affirmed the impact and influence of satellite television on society. He said that when the AsiaSat satellite was first available, Pakistan television and Myanmar television were the first two institutions to make use of it. In an intelligent move, each hired transponder space, though their programmes did not become popular because of a lack of programme strategy. There was no Zee TV or Star Television then; transcontinental broadcasting was still in its early stages.
The national broadcasters of South Asia were the mothers of all the region's broadcasting. The success that they had in their time in the face of many difficulties and constraints could not be denied. Indeed, most TV and radio manpower had been trained by the government-owned media. Most of the people operating Zee TV or Star TV were probably from Doordarshan or All India Radio. But for all the respect due to the state run media they had failed to take account of the development of transcontinental broadcasting. They were too terrestrially oriented. They thought that as terrestrial television reached more people, their efforts could not be matched by satellite television operators. They were wrong; they failed to understand the competitor knocking at their door.
Nepal had two state owned broadcasters, Radio Nepal and Nepal Television; one hundred and ten cable operators in different parts of Nepal, big and small; one MMBS operator limited to Kathmandu valley, 9 FM Stations in different parts of Nepal and 5 out of them in Kathmandu. Two uplinking stations were major users of Nepal television time. One of them used ten and a half hours a week another one used 44 hours a week. Together they are transmitting more hours than Nepal television itself.
The government of Nepal had asked for proposals for the establishment of terrestrial television channels in the private sector. 9 companies had forwarded their proposals, 4 of them for the Kathmandu valley and 5 for a national network. Neer Bikram Shah said it looked as if the state owned broadcasters would face plenty of challenges from both within and without. And in this situation they would have to change their basic ideology to survive.
Talking about the new licences given to different broadcasters in the private sector, Neer Bikram Shah said that quite a lot of them were community owned. This was in contrast to the situation in India, where FM licenses were auctioned and probably fell into the hands of the large business houses. It was debatable in Nepal whether so many broadcasters were necessary, but once the government had decided to allow a larger role to the private sector it should have thought more clearly about the future role of the national broadcaster. Satellite TV had forced them to wake up and they were now preparing themselves but pretty late in the day.
Neer Bikram Shah said it would be possible to spend a very long time discussing the threats and challenges posed by the new satellite media. What he would like to see, however, was 'a very strong platform' where India can take the lead, as the largest country in the region, and follow it up on South Asian scale. ' A united outlook is necessary today' he said, to ensure that there is ' a proper presentation of subjects and proper management of knowledge' for the region as a whole.
Neer Bikram Shah then referred to coverage by the satellite media of the hijack of an Indian airlines plane from Kathmandu to Afghanistan. He said when the Indian airline plane was hijacked, time and again a very responsible broadcaster had named Mr. Gajendra Tamrakar, a small time film actor in Nepal, and this had almost driven his wife to suicide. Such was the amount of news and information against Mr Tamrakar, that Nepal's terrestrial network was overwhelmed and could not defend itself. Neer Bikram Shah argued, therefore, that there was a need to work towards ' very, very responsible broadcasting' whether on satellite or terrestrial. Irresponsible broadcasting could bring serious problems and he called upon satellite broadcasters to behave in a slightly different manner so they could be taken as a responsible broadcasters.
Farhad Mahmud, Managing Director of Ekushey TV, Bangladesh, said he was not quite sure whether he belonged on the same panel as national broadcasters, though on reflection he could see some logic in it. Ekushey was Bangladesh's first private terrestrial broadcaster and it was addressing the same national audience as Bangladesh Television. Ekushey had begun its operations on 14 April 2000 and had only been operating for 7 months. The wonderful thing about starting something new was that you start with a blank slate and you can draw up wonderful plans. The not so wonderful thing was that there is a waiting time and it can be quite painful to see whether your plans have been made well. 'As we all know' he said, ' the market is very unforgiving'. In the new situation, the market had assumed supremacy for broadcasters in both the public and the private sectors. The state owned broadcaster was trying to redefine itself and to find ways to provide the services, which are expected from a public organisation. And the same expectations were also placed on the private broadcaster, particularly the terrestrial broadcaster, which has such far-reaching viewership.
Farhad Mahmud said that he came from a non-media background and had the advantage of looking at broadcasting somewhat dispassionately. At the end of the day, broadcasting was a business similar to other businesses, though it was also different in important ways. One important difference was that you had to operate ' within a very public space'. Everything is subject to public scrutiny and has to be accounted for. This was ' quite a dilemma for the private broadcaster' who had three masters: the market, the shareholders and the viewers.A second fundamental difference was that broadcasters were ' in the business of selling time...which is finite and has a zero shelf-life'. At the end of the day there was only so much time to sell and only so much prime time. This had serious implications for how broadcasters operated and what they could try to achieve. It also put limitations on the sale of products that were not commercially driven. The broadcasting business was also different in that ' there is a disconnectivity between the viewers and the advertisers'. Broadcasters make programmes for the viewers but it is the advertisers who pay them. In other industries, one can safely assume that a good product at a good price will meet with a quick consumer reaction. In broadcasting, consumer reactions are less sure and there are fewer facts to go on. Broadcasters depend heavily on TRPs, yet they are post-facto. They only tell you how programmes have fared; there are no TRPs for programmes which have not yet been conceived.
Farhad Mahmud then discussed the extent to which satellite television can have influence on 'cultures that are so deeply rooted in a nation'. He had been surprised to learn from Sri Lankan friends that in their country the so-called invasion or onslaught of satellite was not an issue. This was because there are 8 terrestrial TV stations in Sri Lanka and the 2 cable operators there are actually going bankrupt. He said certain cultural streams would always be dominant but the issue was: should we be afraid or should we welcome them? He thought the most wonderful thing about the satellite revolution was that it had provided a window to other cultures. He thought it could be used effectively 'as a great equaliser not in terms of people but in terms of cultures and national boundaries'. The export of culture was not something new. It was not just India that was exporting culture; the Americans had been doing it for years. 'Should we agonise over the marginalisation of indigenous cultures or should we just accept it as something that is bound to happen and somehow assimilate it into our society?' At the same time, there was a need to see what culture we want to retain and to take advantage of the satellite revolution ourselves.
Ekuskey TV was a satellite as well as a terrestrial broadcaster. It is available across South Asia as well as throughout Bangladesh, where satellite feeds six terrestrial transmitters. In Bangladesh, there are three other Bengali-speaking satellite channels but Ekushey sees Bangladesh TV as is main competitors because the majority of TV sets get both channels. The initial plans for Ekushey TV rooted its viability in its performance in Bangladesh but the channel could not ignore the 240 million Bengali speakers worldwide. It is keen to serve this wider audience and to make Bengali culture more widely known. The name of the channel comes from the 21 February - the day when Bangladesh remembers its language martyrs. But 21 February is now celebrated as international mother tongue day and the name now has a wider resonance, transcending national boundaries, religion and political ideology.
Eric Fernando, the Director General of the SLBC, said that as the last man in to bat, he did not feel he was expected to make a major contribution, and time was in any case running out. As Sri Lankans, he and his colleagues had listened for the last day and a half to arguments about the merits and demerits of the satellite revolution and had wondered at times if they belonged to South Asia any more. Satellites over South Asia had not bothered Sri Lanka. There could be many reasons for it. One reason that the neighbors of India i.e. Bangladesh, Nepal & Pakistan were bothered about the so called cultural invasion via satellite appeared to be because Hindi was widely understood in those countries, whereas Hindi was not widely understood in Sri Lanka. So they had not been affected and were grateful for that.
Television in Sri Lanka was just 21 years old, whereas Sri Lankan radio was 75 years old. Sri Lanka had been market leaders in radio and there were many generations of Indians who had grown up with Radio Ceylon. He had worked for Radio Ceylon as a broadcaster before becoming the DG of the SLBC. The government monopoly of television had been broken in 1992 and in radio a year later. a result, the radio listening habit had been recreated in Sri Lanka to win back audiences from television which was being lapped up by everyone as the newer of the services. As a result of what he called the 'McDonalisation of radio in Sri Lanka', there were now 7 English channels, of which only one is state owned, 5 Tamil channels out of which 3 are privately own, and 6 Sinhala channels of which 3 are privately owned. There had been a virtual explosion in the radio sector and the state had failed in its duty to realize the limitation of the spectrum. Spectrum was just distributed and as a result there was a lot of chaos which the Telecomm Regulatory Commission had been set up to sort out. The degree of interest in state-operated radio and television was clear from the number of empty seats in the audience. Yesterday, there had been a full house for the global satellite phenomena whereas state broadcasters were faced with a lot of problems because their monopoly had suddenly ended.
Examining the advantages and disadvantages of public broadcasters, Eric Fernando said they had extensive reach and they had the state behind them, with its control of the spectrum and of state owned banks and insurance companies, which provide 40% of the advertising pie. The disadvantages were the long procurement delays for getting new equipment and the brain drain to the private sector. He said two of his former colleagues at the state radio station - both present at the conference - were now heading private broadcasters or working for international news agencies.
Eric Fernando said that government broadcasting in Sri Lanka had been run as a branch of the state administration. He had himself been one of those lured into the private sector but probably the only one who had been lured back into public radio. He had been given the task of making it run like a private operator. The principal obstacle had been the obligations towards the inherited staff, and the government had provided US$7 million to finance voluntary retirement and 620 staff had taken the offer of voluntary redundancy. In conclusion Eric Fernando said that three things were of prime concern to radio and TV operators in Sri Lanka - Deregulation, Digitisation and De-politicisation – the three D’s. He ended by describing the currently most satisfying aspect of his job – a UNESCO sponsored private project in Kothmale community radio station in the central hills of Sri Lanka. What had been a humble radio station was now talking to people in the community, playing their music, taking up their problems and airing their complaints. Collaboration between UNESCO, Sri Lanka Telecoms, the Media ministry, the University of Colombo, and the Institute of Computer Technology had enabled them to set up Internet connectivity for the villagers; and the villagers came along.
Mr Vijay Menon,
Secretary General of AMIC, introduced the three panellists for a discussion
of the state as regulator from a global perspective. Mr Mandla Langa
headed the Integrated Communications Authority of South Africa, the
board which was the final Authority in matters relating to the regulation
of telecommunications and broadcasting. Liz Forgan had been closely
involved in the setting up of Channel 4 in Britain and was advising
the British government on planned broadcasting and communications
legislation; Professor James Curran was a distinguished academic authority
on both the print and broadcasting media, in Britain and internationally.
The IBA Act had a code of conduct attached to it, though the code was the same as had been used for the print media and in the view of the regulators was inadequate for broadcasters. Most of the private broadcasters had opted for self-regulation and this had been accepted by the IBA, subject to the IBA receiving regular reports on complaints received and investigated
The process of defining exactly what was meant by the independence of the IBA, along with that of other independent authorities, was continuing. It was clear that it needed to include independence from political parties and from industry as well as from government. The IBA was accountable to parliament under the IBA act but the ministry defined broadcasting policy under the Broadcasting Act and had the power to issue 'directives' to the IBA on matters of broad national policy. The IBA had initially been funded by government, by application fees and annual licence fees. But this was amended under the Broadcasting Act, and the IBA could no longer retain the annual licence fees. The IBA needed adequate funds but structures of democracy such as the IBA were expensive to run and the regulator had to be accountable through parliament for the way the money was spent. How to do this without exposing the independent regulator to manipulation and control by government was an issue for government to address through its broadcasting policies. Mandla Langa summed up the challenges that South Africa faced. It was a country of great disparities between rich and poor. They had to ensure that there was a choice of terrestrial stations and of South African services in the face of globalisation. Convergence with telecommunications was becoming a reality and the IBA and the Telecommunications Authority were in the process of being merged. The distinction was being maintained between content and carriage for broadcasting and telecommunication services. The SA government had endorsed the need for specific broadcasting regulation. Broadcasting as a cultural tool played a role in realising people's right to freedom of expression and information. The IBA still had to determine policies for multi-channel distributors such as cable and satellite broadcasters; and still had to grapple with the implications of the Broadcasting Act for the public broadcaster SABC. It also had to review the local content regulations, and was seeking ways of cooperating with other countries to build south-south programme exchanges.
In conclusion, Mr Langa said that South Africa had come a long way towards democratising the airwaves. They were currently processing 250 applications for community radio stations and would be doing further viability studies for radio stations in the smaller towns. The most important lesson that South Africa had learned was to assert its own identity over the broadcasting framework. The many different interests involved had to be weighed against those of the people of South Africa.
Professor James Curran highlighted what he called the ‘third way tradition’ in broadcasting – in which the objective of the media is to make a positive contribution to society rather than being guided solely by private economic priorities. This third way tradition was to be found all around the globe. However it was especially well entrenched in western Europe where there had been over a century of experiment in organising the media. At a time when the centre of media research has moved elsewhere it was worth looking again at this third way experience. Why did it reject free market fundamentalism, what did it offer in its place, why was this tradition now in trouble. Does it have a future? He would try and answer these questions.
The centrepiece of the third way approach is that of public service broadcasting. In Europe they evolved from being organs of the state (including the BBC) to being in most cases independent. Broadcasters had public support in their struggle to be independent. Various devices were created to pump up the air cushion insulating broadcasters from politicians. They included a constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression, the earmarking of public finance in the form of a licence fee, the index-linking of the licence fee, the involvement of civil society appointments to broadcasting authorities, competition between different kinds of organisation, and the devolution of editorial authority within the broadcasting institutions. A number of different strategies were adopted to assist broadcasters to be independent. It was not something that just happened.
The second point is
that the public service system in Europe has been transformed. Fifteen
to twenty years ago it mostly took the form of a public monopoly.
Now we had a mixed system and a key part of that system in most western
European countries is private TV. This is subject to quite extensive
regulation; it is not simply guided by private economic needs; it
has public duties placed on it and there are people to ensure that
they conform to those responsibilities. It has taken different forms.
One model seeks to prioritise representative pluralism. Another model
is represented by the British system, which is to prioritise programme
quality. Underlying the second model has been an attempt to shore
up the position of the producer, giving them more creative freedom
than in either a market driven system, or a representative-driven
system such as the Netherlands and Germany. One of the problems with
the British model seems to be that the key formula of producer power
is being eroded by increasing centralisation, both in the BBC and
in independent private television. The problem is increasing as growing
criticism is generated against public broadcasters. There was still
a powerful case to be made for public service television. We needed
to think about new structures, new ways of reinventing public service
broadcasting. In the UK, Channel 4 - with a brief to aim for minorities
and to do new things differently- had been a brilliant example of
the redefinition of public service broadcasting. Arte TV was a new
channel set up by German and French public broadcasters in the 1980s,
in an attempt to redefine public service broadcasting. There were
clearly advantages to be gained from public broadcasters joining together
- a channel jointly controlled by India and Pakistani public TV would
be an attractive idea. With new opportunities for digital TV and the
Internet, new forms of public broadcasting could be delivered. It
was important to think creatively. Public service broadcasting was
not as good as it used to be because commercial values were taking
hold. The regulated private sector was becoming more marketised and
that was having an effect on the core system represented by public
broadcasters. There was a danger that creeping deregulation could
fundamentally undermine rather than renew public service broadcasting.
In conclusion, James Curran noted that in addition to the public service
model there was the social market tradition, whereby intervention
in the operation of the market was designed to make the market function
in the public interest. Anti-monopoly controls were one example of
this. The Scandinavian countries provided the best example of other
forms of selective subsidy designed to support diversity in the market.
The present conference had focussed on two problems: one of public
broadcasting which is too close to government and the other of market
broadcasting systems which involved market censorship. A third way
involved neither state censorship nor market censorship, and he was
encouraged that many of the contributors to the discussion on the
previous day were seeking to pursue that tradition.
Britain had a tradition of effective, fairly interventionist and autonomous regulation of broadcasting content, differentiated quite clearly by delivery system. The approach to regulating telephony was quite different in purpose and degree to that for television. Regulation had been largely a response to spectrum scarcity and a clear view of the difference between public and private communication. There was general agreement that with the arrival of digital and of the consequent convergence of media and the explosion of outlets including the Internet, a fundamental rethink of regulation was required.
Regulation was an infringement of free speech and a barrier to the optimum exploitation of new technologies in which British industry and arguably the consumer had an interest. Did we need regulation at all? There was broad agreement on two propositions. One was that regulation was still needed but of a much lighter sort than in the past. The other was that any regulatory framework would be for a transitional period, whose form and duration could not be reliably guessed; so it had t be ale to accommodate change. The key justification for content regulation of communications services was that consumers continued to want it B in some places more than others. But there was no support for sudden abolition. There were precious benefits of the regulated age, which should be protected at least in the medium term if they were to survive. They included impartial news and current affairs and a choice of news providers, outlets for minority cultures and a full range of programme genres that fall outside what the market sees as 'effective' demand, open access for UK producers and consumers to government services, education and to open channels of information about the society in which they live. The market might provide some of these when it was fully mature. Others she did not believe the market could ever be relied on to provide, if left to itself.
The economics of radio and television service with their high fixed costs and low marginal costs favoured dominant players. They needed to be constantly balanced by a regulatory framework if competition and pluralism were to be safeguarded. Markets tended to the middle range of programming and the battle to extend the range of programming almost always required intervention.
Thirdly, broadcasting's role in the texture of civil society required the recognition of the existence of public or merit goods, and the limits of the free market to provide them. Free markets were good at reflecting individual decisions in a competitive environment. But there were public goods B high quality journalism, cultural investment, the patronage of innovation- which would not be delivered by the sum of individual decisions. Moreover, the days of perfect competition were far away. These were the arguments for continuing regulation in principle. A new set of arguments arose over the forms that that should apply to different media.
The advice that her team had given the British government was to work with the grain of the developing communications market and operate a sliding scale of regulation depending on the market share of the individual service and the consumers' expectation of that service. For example, BBC1 would have a strong regulatory expectation but a new satellite channel with a tiny share would have little or none. When the market share of a service changed, the regulatory burden would be adjusted accordingly. Too rigid a regulatory structure would be bound to get it wrong. The other proposal they had made was that there should be a system of benefits in exchange for regulatory obligations. Guaranteed spectrum, free spectrum, prominence in the Electronic Programme Guide, must-carry rules which oblige all cable and satellite operators to offer the public service channels, and economic privileges such as Channel 4's protection from shareholder ownership and the BBC's licence fee, would all be offered in exchange for various degrees of public service undertakings to be enforced by the regulator.
Eight different regulators sponsored by three different government departments cost the British government ,28 million in 1998. The argument now was whether there should be a single all-powerful regulator for competition, carriage and content or whether content was to get a separate regulator of its own.
Opening the discussion the Chairman Vijay Menon expressed the hope that participants would take up the assertion that commercial values had undermined the quality of public service broadcasting. The panel members were asked by a participant from Pakistan about how to manage a transition from the control of programme content through state censorship, to the regulation of abuses of the media by some sort of community board. Liz Forgan said that there had been a serious battle against censorship in the UK, in which leading professional had risked a great deal sometimes with popular support and sometimes with the aid of the press. In a less serious vein, she said that for a country with an advanced sense of the ironic quite a lot of good work in dismantling censorship could be done simply by insisting on displaying its inherent absurdity. Mandla Langa said that the question of censorship had to be looked at very seriously. In South Africa censorship had been so entrenched in the state broadcaster that South Africans could not discern truth from fabrication. People were arrested for listening to outside broadcasts. He said that censorship could not be negotiated away; the censors had to be abolished. Tarique Ansari of Radio Midday asked if the two arguments advanced by Mr Mandla Langa for the convergence of broadcasting and telecommunications regulation - one the management of the spectrum and secondly the convergence of technologies – were strong enough in themselves, or were there other factors? Mandla Langa said that they were strong arguments; but he cautioned that you had to factor in the human element, the possibility of job losses and retrenchment. It required a lot of money and the entrenching of a new culture. James Curran said that there was growing convergence in terms of ownership and internet provision and in that context a convergent regulatory authority made sense. He said that the general tenor of the argument was that regulation was in itself a bad thing, and there were many such examples. But there were ways in which regulators could actually increase the freedom of broadcasters. Market driven systems tend to marginalise informative programmes and entertainment takes over. Effective regulation can create spaces, in which journalists can begood journalists. It can promote pluralism – the articulation of different views and perspectives – and provide a positive aid to the independence and autonomy of the broadcasters in a way that is not available in a market driven system. Liz Forgan said that in Britain there were eight regulators, costing £28 million pounds. This was too many, but she was not sure how many were needed. The key criterion was how best to ensure that the content, aims and objectives that you seek to achieve by regulation are not swept out of the way by the great imperative of the commercial interest. Nalaka Gunawardene, commenting on Mandla Langa’s presentation, said that the key task of the good regulator was to create a level playing field for the state, commercial and community broadcasters. In Sri Lanka the licensing process for private stations had not been transparent, and he asked what the criteria had been in South Africa for granting licenses. He said also that issues affecting the poor and rural population who form the majority in the countries of south Asia were not reflected in the broadcast media. This was the opposite of the rationale for the British Channel 4; here it was the numerical majority that was under-represented. What should be done ensure that the interests of the majority are represented? Mandla Langa said that he had not had time to go in detail into the licensing process. The issue of licensing was the cornerstone of regulation; invitations are issued publicly to applicants for a radio licence; there were a number of criteria which had to be met. But the process was public; there was opportunity for the public to present evidence if an applicant was considered unsuitable. There needs to be rigorous interrogation of the financial basis of a bid; or six months on the regulator would be required to sort out the financial mess. But the regulator had to aim to be a facilitator rather than a hindrance to economic activity. James Curran said Britain ought to adopt a public interrogation process. And it was important to ensure an equality of access to special media services. In the United States poorer areas were often not cabled. In western Europe it was often made a condition that cable access should be provided to poorer areas as well as affluent areas. Liz Forgan said that the important thing was to cater for the unheard voice. The best thing about the regulatory remit for Channel 4 was not to cater to minorities but to tastes and interests not catered to elsewhere. From the floor the question was raised as to how public broadcasters who were heavily dependent on government funding could stand up to the government. James Curran said the BBC had been familiar with these problems; one big advantage had been the licence fee as an independent source of income for the BBC, and the indexation of the licence fee to an economic indicator that was independent of political decision makers. The Chairman Vijay Menon thanked the members of the panel and urged conference members to continue the discussion over lunch
1) The state
as regulator CONFERENCE ROOM 2
Open session (6) Issues of regulation and responsiveness: charting
the way forward.
M.Asafuddowlah reviewed the colonial inheritance of South Asia, which he characterised as 'poverty, a high rate of illiteracy, inexperience in governance, an absence of institutional traditions, a lack of self confidence, inter- and intra- religious hostilities co-existing with intolerance, superstition, hero worship, a rich culture, and hobby for self deception'. In these young states, with a variety of forms of governance, the democracies had allowed the growth of state regulatory powers. Rights are regulated or seized in the name of democracy. 'When dictatorship betrays, it only re-affirms' he said, 'when democracy betrays it hurts.'
In Bangladesh, people were conscious of their rights but poverty compelled them to put sustenance above other priorities. The neutrality of the bureaucracy used to moderate the government's dispensation. In Bangladesh, that had changed dramatically. The system of checks and balances had disappeared; ministers of the ruling party now exercised unfettered powers.
In Bangladesh, the ministry of information was considered to be a powerful one; it regulates the print media, it controls the distribution of public sector and government advertising, it can distribute favours and official posts. In opposition the political parties promised freedom of the media; in power they did not assert this demand. The ruling party used radio and TV as an instrument for government propaganda; opposition to government and opposition to state were seen as the same thing. Radio and TV were run directly by the Ministry of information. In 1996 the government of Bangladesh, had set up a commission on the question of autonomy for the media, which had submitted a unanimous report the following year. But not a single recommendation had been considered. The Commission had recommended setting up a national Broadcasting Corporation to assume complete operational autonomy for radio and TV. The report envisaged an open door policy on allowing terrestrial and satellite channels to operate in addition to the national channels. It strongly recommended freedom of the screen from state interference.
Asafuddowlah said there was both public and legal pressure for the implementation of the Commission's Report. Meanwhile satellite channels had promoted an exaggerated consumerism. In the cultural field, a cross-cultural synergy was bound to affect the tenuous content of national cultures and their identities. Globalisation was supposed to be a process of integration of people and nations into one global market. But actually globalisation was forcing all nations into a mono-polar world. It had deepened social and moral contradictions and contributed to the growth of violence. He believed that elected governments should assume a regulatory role within specified limits. The authority of civil society alone could compel the state to moderate its power and allow people their right of access to undistorted information and the right to choose.
Answering questions, Asafuddowlah said that there had been attempts to put public pressure on the government on the autonomy issue but they had not been successful; the political will was lacking. All the members of the Autonomy Commission had believed that state control of broadcasting had to be changed and had worked with dedication and sincerity, to no effect. He argued that freedom is not misused as much as those in authority think it will be. A self-regulated person is more disciplined than one who requires a teacher to tell him what to do. Asked if there was any provision in the Bangladesh constitution regarding freedom of speech and expression, Asafuddowlah said that a human rights group in the High Court was testing the issue. He said that in Bangladesh and South Asia there was a lack of visionary statesmen who could look ahead 20 years into the future.
The Chairman Afsan Chowdhury then invited reports from the chairpersons of the three working groups.
chairperson of the working group on the new media market and the programme
agenda, reported that there had been a lively and animated discussion
on the topic.
The group felt that very often the broadcasters preferred to stick to safe formats, rather than taking risks with innovative formats. Those who deviate from this safe approach need to have deep pockets until they can prove that they can succeed, but not many producers can afford that. The other options are to find new ways of raising sponsorship. For example, Tara TV was trying to promote a concept of the value that appeals to particular corporate sponsors, rather than directly marketing a promoted product. Nimal shared some very interesting experiences from Sri Lanka. Three of four points generated a great deal of discussion. One was the need in this industry to push the limits all the time. The question of prime time needs to be challenged and questioned. According to Nimal, prime time varies from time to time for different audiences. He also believes that all broadcasting must and can be a public service, and that there is no need to have a separate category. Then there was a discussion on how to describe and define public service broadcasting, a debate without a result when we ended. We endorsed the need for new formats and new concepts so that innovation can drive the industry, the need to go to the people, connect with them, stay with them and give a voice to the unheard. Because some of our participants felt that when this is done the market will follow. Some specific examples were given. So is this the way forward rather than following the market; to be different even controversial when you have to be?. It was pointed out that those who criticise new approaches would soon emulate them. The industry grows only if there is constant risk-taking and innovation. This poses a greater challenge to producers. We discussed examples from different parts of the region. We felt that public service broadcasting sometime falls into a rut of funded programmes, with funds coming from UN agencies or bilateral donors. Then there is a danger that it gets branded as a funded programme and television stations look at it in a particular way. But there were examples where public interest programmes have been made with no funding or with corporate sector funding that has been obtained using a particular strategy. We also felt that the market manifests itself in other ways. One example was how cable operators can include or exclude a given channel in their area of distribution; we were not sure how this could be countered. Finally we felt that market analysis and market relations cannot just be left to the marketing experts but that producers and filmmakers need to be involved themselves. Producers felt that they were not very good at marketing. The group also got into a debate about attacking and defending Doordarshan that also generated some lively discussion.
Tarique Ansari said of the dynamics of the group discussing Radio that it was very diverse. Some members were keen on grassroots community radio, others were pushing the private market agenda, and there were some practitioners of both kinds. What was interesting was that there was so much agreement and disagreement about radio. It is clear that not enough discussion has taken place and that not enough forums have been created. With due respect to the organizers, there had not been enough discussion on radio. So there were many questions and issues, which needed to be ventilated before any kind of consensus could be reached. The first set of discussions were about radio broadcasting: how should radio broadcasting be regulated and who should do the regulation? One point of view was that radio should just be put into the hands of the people to use for the benefit of the communities they want to serve, and that regulation was unnecessary. The only regulation needed was that of distribution not content. But some thought that regulation was required and perhaps that it should play a role in creating greater choice. One thing came out strongly - the need for separation of the regulatory role from the state broadcaster. One of the reasons why there were restrictions on private radio news and current affairs programmes in India was that the state broadcaster had a vested interest in trying to prevent it. There was a consensus on the need to get the right people sitting on the regulatory board, whether they were experts or non-experts.
A second set of questions was on the whole issue of the public and state broadcaster versus the private and commercial broadcaster. Should there be areas that one or the other does exclusively, or is that unnecessary? Mark Tully made the interesting point that there is a lot of public radio in south Asia which is state radio but not necessarily public service radio, though Tarique Ansari believed that the public or state radio was trying to do some public service. There was some disagreement on these questions .One school of thought was that the public broadcaster should provide public service programming and get out of entertainment programming altogether. Tarique Ansari himself was of this view, believing in what he broadly called the Amartya Sen model whereby government should get out of places where it has no business to be. But he himself had been made aware of some very good things that the state broadcaster in India had done, whether on the commercial service Vividh Bharati or elsewhere.
The next area involved community radio. There had been a heated discussion on the three tiers of radio, national, local and community. The last was non-existent in India, but there was a lot of interest in it among people in India. We heard of the very interesting experience of Radio Sagarmatha in Nepal and views as to how community radio could work. Two things had stood out. One is that if technology makes it possible for lots of people to have access to the spectrum, the best way for community radio to work may be to allow lots of people to take bits of the spectrum and run it for the community. There were specific suggestions on many possible ways of funding this. The group has discussed appropriate technologies which could widen the availability of radio and touched briefly on what was happening on the Internet. The advocates of community radio led this discussion, arguing that the use of appropriate technology can make cheap radio available to a wide spectrum of people who can both create and consume radio. Tarique Ansari was concerned that the discussion should not be too Indo-centric. A strong input from Sri Lanka argued that radio was very different in the different nations of the region. The topography was different; culturally therefore there may not be a south Asian model. An interesting comment had been that there might be a model for the development of radio, which was unique to each country. There had been strong inputs from Nepal where the models of community radio were very interesting; and from Sri Lanka. People were not happy about how the private frequencies had been allotted, and there were lessons to be drawn from that.
Deepak Thapa reported on behalf of the Chairman of the group on the state as regulator, Mr Agha Nasir, who had taken over the chairmanship at short notice from Dr Bhaskara Rao who had not been able to come. Among the first things that emerged was a comment from Ms Tara Sinha admiring the way in which South Africa had had both the vision of changing the regulatory system, and had taken concrete steps to implement it; there was general agreement on that after hearing Mr. Mandla Langa’s address earlier in the day. Deepak Thapa then set out the various scenarios in the countries of south Asia on the issues of regulation and autonomy. But he first noted the concern that the voices of the public were not being heard as these regulations and legislation were prepared. The experience of all the countries was that though these views were aired at various public forums, one never knew if they were incorporated into actual legislation or not. From Bangladesh there had been a great demand for an autonomous radio and TV service after years of government control. After 1996 a committee set up under Mr Asafuddowlah studied how that could come about. The first recommendation, that the ministry of information should not have control over broadcasting service was not very palatable to the ministry concerned. As elections were approaching, voices were being raised that some kind of autonomy might be granted, but to do it in a hurry and at a late stage would not be very effective. The biggest hindrance to autonomy for the state broadcasting services was from the employees, who enjoy certain perks as government employees. This was true of all the countries of the south Asian region.
In Sri Lanka as elsewhere the government was against freeing the government media. One interesting point that came up was how people should be appointed to the various bodies set up to regulate broadcasting. Appointments should not be made by the executive whether it is the President in Sri Lanka, the prime minister in other countries or the military chief executive as in Pakistan. One suggested system was for a committee to be formed consisting of the president or Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition and people from outside government. This committee would appoint members of the various regulatory bodies, giving them it was hoped some autonomy and freedom from interference by government. Such a system had first been advocated in Sri Lanka in 1994. A lot had been said about India; he had been reminded that work on a new Broadcasting Bill had begun in India in 1997 after Star TV announced a plan to start a direct to home service. The proposed convergence bill would create a single super-regulatory body, (as one member of the groups had described the proposed Communication Commission of India), which would basically expand the existing role of the Telecommunication Authority of India and allow it to do everything under one roof.
With regard to Pakistan there had been discussion of the regulatory authority RAMBO (the Regulatory Authority for Media and Broadcast Organisations), (which has since been renamed PEMBRA – the Pakistan Electronic Media and Broadcasting Regulatory Authority) Mr Agha Nasir had said they had fixed on the acronym first and then found the words to fit it. Deepak Thapa concluded by saying that if south Asia was the laggard of the world, Nepal was the laggard of south Asia, with the lowest development indicator of all the south Asian countries; and this applied to regulatory authorities as well. As regulatory authorities had been set up elsewhere in south Asia, the Nepal government was likely to take up the issue in due course, but it was not a priority.
Before the discussion was opened to the floor Urmila Gupta (formerly a senior executive of Doordarshan, then for four years with Star TV) argued that the focus of the discussion had been on three things - the state, the citizens and the media owners – their role and the relationships between them. The state’s role was that of both facilitator and regulator. We should not just be looking at the negative role, but at the positive role of facilitator, she said. The proposed Broadcasting Bill had been described by some people as a draconian piece of legislation, almost as bad as the Indian Telegraph act of the previous century. The underlying reason for this was that India had essentially continued the devices of regulation and control which the colonial system had set in place. Nothing much had been done since independence. It had taken technology and the advent of satellite broadcasting to make them realize that they could not remain that way. But she wanted to correct the impression that work on a Broadcasting Bill had begun only in 1997. The trigger had been the Supreme Court directive on the freedom of the airwaves; the legislative and executive role had in a sense been taken over by the judiciary. India had now finally and rightfully reached the conclusion that it needed a full time body similar to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to facilitate, supervise, monitor and control the entire IT, telecommunications and broadcasting sector. The convergence of digital technologies had made this imperative. In drafting broadcasting legislation, India had examined legislation from ten different countries. But Gupta warned that taking clauses from different bills and stringing them together did not make a Broadcasting Bill. In drafting legislation the needs of each country were different.
On the rights and obligations of the main players, and the discussion on ‘responsible’ versus commercial programming, Urmila Gupta said it was important to be realistic. In the private sector, investors want a return on their investment; broadcasters have an obligation to their equity holders. At the same time, broadcasters had a public role and responsibility, which sometimes has to be forced on them, often by vocal citizens’ groups who are in a position to make their viewpoint known, good or bad. Legislation has to mandate certain kinds of programming, children’s and educational programming for example, at certain hours. Broadcasters must also ensure quality and adherence to certain standards; one of the issues was how to ensure quality control both in technical terms and in terms of programming.
Thirdly, Urmila Gupta argued that the citizen in one sense could exercise choice by having his or her finger on the remote control. But the citizen today also had to be the broadcaster, as throughout the world interactive TV and ‘reality TV’ had shown. People no longer wanted mindless soaps; they were looking for something that reflects their own lives and they want to interact with the broadcasters. Thanks to digital technology, India was moving with the rest of the world to this next stage of television. This was exciting because it gave citizens a chance to demand and make known what they wanted. Urmila Gupta in conclusion welcomed the growth of niche programming and niche channels, which gave huge importance to the aspirations of smaller groups. For anyone involved in broadcasting, she said, this was very exciting.
The discussion with the panel was then opened to the floor. To the question: could there be a truly south Asian channel? Nalaka Gunawardene replied that first a truly south Asian identity would be required, which had been shown to be sadly lacking. Indians still thought in terms of India and South Asia, not realising that India is the largest part of south Asia. We needed to evolve that South Asian identity; politics and commerce would follow.
Huma Mustafa Baig commented that there was an innate fear of religion in a world in which secular concepts were dominant. The portrayal of Islam as the new enemy was only one aspect of this fear. She asked what room there was in the digital age and the market economy for ethics and basic human values, knowing the difference between right and wrong. T.R. Malakar said that the basic issue was to go back to the roots of our own culture. A fast food culture was taking over and being replicated. We need our classic writers and dance forms, which are not being seen on television as they should be. Ultimately the question is whether a broadcaster, public or private, is serving the people of his country or not.
Should there be a more frequent exchange of programmes between south Asian countries? Nalaka Gunawardene was in favour but he did not think the SAARC Audio Visual Exchange scheme (SAVE) was the right way to go about it. Like other SAARC initiatives it had been poorly implemented under official intergovernmental supervision. The state broadcasters had been grudging participants, and the programmes had often been scheduled in time slots when nobody watched. There was a need to engage the commercial producers and independent film makers in the process of programme exchange. The South Asian documentary film festival held in Kathmandu over the previous three years was a very commendable initiative. But we needed to engage broadcasters more in the process.
Lopa Banerjee argued that the interpretation of Indian traditional family values had often resulted in the promotion of a particular type of conservatism. She wanted to question conventional value systems promoted by many of the programmes that had a high viewership in India. Others argued that westerners perceive easterners to have a set of values, which are seen as conservative. The younger generation should not accept this framework; they should be bold enough to reinvent the word and redefine what they believe in a contemporary way. When winning contestants in Kaun Banega Crorepati say that that they will give away their prize money to their mother or father or to their guru, or when Indian beauty queens say they will donate everything to the poor children of India, we should not fool ourselves that they are giving voice to a different set of values.
Is there any space for the grass roots or subaltern section of society in the marketing world? There is a need and a desire for such space but there is no point in making it imperative for a private broadcaster to devote time to public service broadcasting. There is need for a space that falls outside that of the state and the private broadcasters. A small proportion of any licence fee taken for uplinking from India should be channelised to a galaxy of agencies for public service broadcasting initiatives. This experimental model would help ensure that we do not abdicate responsibility for the public interest either to the state or the private sector.
In Sri Lanka programmes focussed on the middle class have been turned into popular programmes. The working groups have argued that each country has to evolve its own model. Can there be a south Asian model; can what works in Sri Lanka work in Nepal? Deepak Thapa said that in Nepal the middle class was very small; TV programmes did not have to reflect middle class values; although programmes on Nepal TV were often substandard, many programmes were devoted to the rural areas and showed the underclass of society.
was asked whether the problems she described were specific to India.
She replied that the private broadcaster has to look at commercial
viability- the same story was repeated about the Indian film industry.
In India, the public broadcaster today also has to look at the bottom
line. We should be able to move to a different model. BBC domestic
services are financed by a licence fee, enabling them to provide more
artistic and better quality programming. The private broadcaster has
to fight for advertising. Many of them are in the red, and they are
not providing quality programmes for minority interests. One solution
might be to introduce a licence fee on every television set sold,
providing a source of funding for good quality programmes for private
as well as public networks.
Sashi Kumar said that that argument was not put forward when we talk about the press. The press operates a free market economy; they don’t want any privileging or handicapping. Television was part of the Fourth Estate. Were we not censoring ourselves when we see television as different?. Initially, when there were a few India channels on the scene we predicted that many of them were going to die, but that did not happen. The advertising pie has grown. The share of the advertising pie matters less now than the fact that the pie has grown with the number of new channels. Perhaps we should not be underscoring the commercial viability as much as the will to start these channels. Africa provides a good example of how a community television channel was opened by public subscription. There may be a different paradigm to be found in this.
The Chairman Afsan Chowdhury added that in terms of innovation one of the projects that Panos had supported in Africa was a radio for nomads, which had been able to voice their demands and become a major force in their own country. He then closed the session with thanks to the participants.
In conclusion William Crawley said he did not expect the conference to come to firm conclusions. But he promised that with the cooperation of the delegates a report of the conference containing a summary of the views expressed in different sessions would be circulated to them by email. He and David Page thanked the British Council and Panos South Asia for their cooperation in setting the conference up, and Afsan Chowdhury for his chairmanship of the final session. He thanked all the participants warmly for coming, many of them from long distances, for their patience and their contribution over the two days.