Still frightfully familiar
MOST TV channels assume that viewership is to be won with compelling programming. Doordarshan hopes you will watch because it is your patriotic duty to patronise each new brainwave of a channel that it comes up with. With DD News having been put to pasture along with all those who thrived on its patronage, it launched DD Bharati on Republic Day. (All channels have to be launched on Republic Day or Independence Day, being gifts to the nation, however dubious.)
DD Bharati says it with flowers, as you might have noticed if you have tuned in. There are flowers on the logo and flowers blooming in their corporate ad. It's not very clever to say Bharati in white on the channel logo so that it is scarcely discernible, they need to do something about that. But that apart, there was a surprisingly aesthetic launch function, with good lighting and enjoyable performances by some of our finest musicians. If you ignore the speeches which were numerous and clichéd, and the fact that the hall was filled with wives and children, it was a surprisingly good DD production. But the warm lighting in the auditorium translated into flat lighting when it went on air. The telecast of the launch function was not a winner.
The more Doordarshan reinvents itself, the more it remains the same. If you find the brand new channel looking frightfully familiar, it is because you've tuned in a month too early. It was launched on schedule but promptly proceeded to warn us that it would take a month to get into stride. Many of the planned programmes are still to be delivered. Some concepts are still evolving. So what do you get? Whatever it could lay its hands on in line with its three-point focus on children, health and art and culture. If you thought subject groupings were strictly for school curricula, as in physics, chemistry, biology or history, geography, civics, you were wrong.
In the interim, DD Bharati is determinedly wholesome. And hotchpotch. One minute you get a tutorial on various schools of music or dance, the next somebody is holding forth on the importance of teeth in the human body. If you want a rough idea of what to expect, there will be health in the morning (DD style: self-conscious, dressed-up woman sitting by a table lamp and telling you about yoga), programmes for young people from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., art and culture thereafter, with occasional aberrations like tooth care thrown in. I love the lines they have thought up for their corporate ad: "India's heartbeat channel! Enrich your lives!"
Right now, compulsive viewing it is not. And while the private sector Crest Communications has been roped in to do slick packaging, there is no packaging in evidence, only a straight slotting of programmes one after another. If it is my patriotic duty to list the plus points, here they are. After a total absence of the arts on the two terrestrial channels there is an overdose of it here. Thrown together, from wherever it can be procured. It telecast a Sanskritised Girish Karnad play on Sunday night produced by B.V. Karanth, and while it was well done and a pleasant change from the usual TV fare on any channel, it would not have hurt to precede it with a synopsis in English telling us what the play was about. Earlier the same evening it showed an award-winning film for children, "Chirayu".
The children's segment has an IT hour from 5 to 6 which is being done by the technology channel, TMG-Enter. By next month it should have a Sagar Hour from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., in which Ramanand Sagar will regale young minds with wisdom from the Puranas, the Mahabharat, the Ramayana, and anything else that it can recycle from earlier productions. Two months down the line, Mukesh Khanna who produces "Shaktimaan" is going to come up with something for the children's segment. Meanwhile twice a week, Discovery Channel is putting out an hour each for youth and grown-ups on Tuesdays and Fridays. The latter is a travel and tourism segment.
This is going to be a happy place for the Government and State Governments to get air time. The Karnataka Government is going to do a year long series on the cultural aspects of Karnataka. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts is going to produce art and culture in an evening slot, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., which has already begun. The National Science Museum is already dishing up those redoubtable scientists from Kolkata on its "Science Quest" programme on Sunday evenings. And the National School of Drama is talking about a series. Aren't you dying to tune in?
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What happens when journalists from around the country get together to discuss their professional lives?
You learn some unpalatable truths about the fourth estate which thunders day in and day out about the ills of every other segment of society. It is a self appointed custodian of all our major institutions.
Yet a national level workshop on women in journalism held in Delhi last week showed that for the country's newspapers, and to a lesser extent its TV channels, to criticise other institutions is tantamount to the pot calling the kettle black. They are themselves amazingly callous and exploitative employers. Many regional newspapers don't pay even a minimum wage. They don't give maternity or annual leave. They keep their journalists on a daily wage, without paid weekly offs. They don't provide separate bathrooms for women. They don't give increments or promotions. (One woman said she had not got a promotion since 1986). They delay paying salaries by as much as three months. And with municipal elections taking place in Hyderabad, one publication told its reporters to get their salaries from the politicians during that period!
National newspapers, meanwhile, offer very different wage contracts to journalists at their headquarters as compared to their regional editions.
Where, asked a journalist pithily, is the space where newspaper owners and managements can be held to account? How many papers are paying wage-board recommended salaries? When you pay a journalist with some years of experience a grand total of Rs. 1500 a month (less than what you have to pay for a full time household help in some localities in our metropolises), and when you routinely decline to confirm women employees, what moral right do you have to grandstand? And how do you hope to turn out honest journalists who will decline the carrot of a freebie?
All this is without getting into the issue of sexual harassment, which too exists in various dimensions inside newspaper establishments. The points emerging in the discussions were also borne out in a study conducted by the Bangalore NGO, Voices, which held the workshop. The study is yet to be released.
Just before these stories began to unfold in the working sessions, Right to Information activist Aruna Roy had asked in the course of her key note address, is accountability only for politicians and governments? What about the accountability of the media, particularly family-owned newspapers? Judging by the horror stories narrated in closed door sessions, it is this column's humble opinion that the Press Council should appoint an inquiry commission to investigate employment conditions in the country's newspapers.
"Commando" on BBC World: You can catch this new reality show at noon today. It airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m., and repeats on Sundays and on Tuesdays at 10 p.m.. It is a 13-part series, based on the army's commando training course, and follows the fate of junior commissioned officers striving to become commandos. The first episode was interesting but not riveting. The Alva brothers have shot it at the Commando Training School at Belgaum in Karnataka.
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