Official title for state-owned Indian television, after it was delinked from the AIR and established as an independent corporation under the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (1976). TV was introduced experimentally in 1959, supported by UNESCO, the US government and Philips, with a weekly half-hour service covering a radius of 40km centred on Delhi. With Indira Gandhi as the new Information & Broadcasting Minister, this became a daily service (1965). In 1972, a station was established in Bombay, then in Srinagar (1973) followed by Calcutta and Madras, with 39 more centres set up in the 80s. In 1975, the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) was launched with support from NASA using Delhi and Ahmedabad as ground stations to broadcast ‘instructional programmes’ to 2500 villages in six states (Bihar, MP, Orissa, Rajasthan, AP and Karnataka). The programme was briefly accompanied by a much smaller but arguably more significant experiment at Pij, in Gujarat, where a 1-kV transmitter addressed 750 community sets in 350 villages: several major film-makers produced programmes and discussed them with the villagers. Colour programmes were introduced, controversially, in 1982, to telecast the Asian Games in New Delhi with imported outside broadcast and electronic news-gathering units using Soviet satellite services while setting up 20 low-power transmitters. The first Indian telecommunications satellite assembled at the ISRO failed; the second, INSAT 1B, launched in 1983, also inaugurated the Special Plan for the Expansion of the Television Network. The Plan claimed to be unique in the history of TV expansion, eventually installing 13 high-power and 113 low-power transmitters, linking them up to make terrestrial broadcasts available to 70% of the population within a period of 18 months (1983-4). The Seventh Five-Year plan doubled its communications media investment to Rs 150 billion, 49% of this sum going to Doordarshan alone. Although advertising had been allowed since 1977, Doordarshan went commercial only in 1982, also making New Delhi the centre of a daily ‘national programme’ dominating peak-hour viewing. Initially, its commercial shows were predominantly film-based, such as the Chitrahaar series (stringing together song sequences from Indian movies) and the weekend feature films. Started selling 30’ slots for independently made TV serials sponsored by advertisers with the serial Hum Log (We, the People, 1984-5), a ‘developmental’ soap opera sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive and Nestlé. In 1987, advertising revenue topped Rs 10 billion with 65% coming from only six multinational corporations. Best-known serials were the Hindu epics, Ramayan (by Ramanand Sagar, 1986-8) and Mahabharat (by B.R. Chopra, 1988-90). Doordarshan’s monopoly over both advertising and news and its role as the ruling government’s most effective propaganda platform was often criticised. The Janata Party’s 1977 election manifesto promised to make Doordarshan fully autonomous and set up the B. G. Verghese Working Group on Autonomy for Akashvani and Doordarshan (1978) to work out the logistics of such a move. However, the Prasar Bharati bill presented in 1979 offered a vastly watered-down version of the promised autonomy. The report of the governmentappointed Working Group on Software for Indian TV, aka the P.C. Joshi Committee Report (1984), was extremely critical of Doordarshan’s ‘Delhi-centrism’, its mode of introducing consumerism in the countryside and its dependence on foreign networks for programme ideas. The report appeared only in excerpts in independent journals. Doordarshan started collaborating with the NFDC (1988), producing films by e.g. Aravindan, [[Adoor Gopalakrishnan]], Girish Kasaravalli, [[Mira Nair]] and Mani Kaul, initially to reduce its massive dependence on the film industry. The results were mostly telecast in late-night film slots. In 1992-3 the Hong Kong-based STAR-TV cable network (subsequently bought by Rupert Murdoch) challenged Doordarshan’s monopoly. It heralded a major boom in commercial satellite channels both in English and Hindi (the latter led by STAR subsidiary ZEE-TV).

Between 1993-5 the proliferation of cable channels spread to other languages (Malayalam with ASIANET, Tamil with SUN), depending on a parallel, mainly multinational, satellite services industry (e.g. the Pan American Satellite-4, Asiasat etc.), which provides increasingly cheaper beaming facilities over the South Asian footprint. Doordarshan’s political control over the Indian territory was legally challenged when a Supreme Court ruling (13 February 1995) declared the Air Waves to be public property. In response to the changing situation, Doordarshan introduced the commercial Metro Channel in 1993, and DD-3 in 1995, as well as several regional channels.


Last modified 6 years ago Last modified on Jul 1, 2013, 6:00:32 AM