Book Strategizes South Asian Satellite
By TBS Contributing Editor
MUMBAI, INDIA: The
new book "Satellites over South Asia: Broadcasting Culture and the Public Interest"
(Sage Publications, India), authored by David Page and William Crawley, was released
in India in December 2000. It sparked an involved discussion at a Mumbai panel
on the role of Indian broadcasting within the South Asian subcontinent (see box).
A seminar "South Asian Broadcasting in the Satellite Age" held in New Delhi also
coincided with the book's launch and the authors' visit to India.
Page and Crawley, sponsored
by the Ford Foundation and the Institute of Development Studies at the University
of Sussex in the UK, which supported the IDS Research Project of Media South Asia,
researched the impact of transnational broadcasting on the South Asian subcontinent.
The book explores how satellite programs have created new electronic communities
that transcend the boundaries of the nation-state, often thought to challenge
state control, according to the authors.
Speaking to TBS from their
Mumbai hotel, Crawley and Page discussed their book's charting the various changes
the broadcast industry faces throughout Southeast Asia, and especially in India.
"The book evolved over
two years, from l998 to 1999, in our visits to various countries in the Southeast
Asian continent through Ford Foundation grants and teaching posts. It took a team
of twelve research associates from the Media South Asia Project to work across
the subcontinent--India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka--to document
these findings," said Page, who serves as project director of the Institute of
Development Studies at the University of Sussex and who spent eight months based
in New Delhi last year.
"We chose to concentrate
on rural areas and how they are affected by the development of broadcasting. There
is a certain mismatch between the middle class and big business with the rural
population where the satellite targets the audience and yet there is a shared
structure encompassing all the communities."
In conjunction with the
book, a documentary film exploring the same subject, "South Asian Media," directed
by Indian television journalist and documentary filmmaker Napur Basu, was also
released. The film, according to the director, is believed to be the first South
Asia-wide collaboration of its kind spanning five South Asian countries on the
same themes and using local crews. Television Trust for the Environment, a non-profit
organization that works globally to promote the use of audio and visual media
to discuss development issues, produced the documentary.
"Both the book and the
film broaden understanding of the satellite revolution's significance for the
development of broadcasting in South Asia and the globalization process with the
economic and technological changes of the 1990s in the area," said Crawley.
"The explosion of choice
in the context of shared traditions and structures of broadcasting and the social
conditions for a mass audience for satellite television has developed into a globalizing
process, transforming previous state TV monopolies into a competitive international
More than four hundred
experts were interviewed for the book, coinciding with an estimated one hundred
discussion groups to further delve into the various policies of different South
Asian states in response to the satellite revolution. Different South Asian states--Sri
Lanka excepted, according to the authors--have concentrated more on preserving
their control of broadcasting than on developing an effective regulatory framework
to meet the changing situation.
"We feel that India as
the largest country, now with an over one billion population, faces the largest
challenge in the satellite age with its rural and regional culture being ignored
by the medium, which appears driven by advertising and global reinforcement of
consumerism," said Page. "The concentration of many satellite channels in the
lucrative Indian middle-class market has involved a neglect, in fact, of the wider
South Asian audiences. Findings showed an overall neglect of Indian regional cultures,
particularly in the north, where Hindi language programming has gotten its largest
Through experts, discussions,
and the author's findings on the key globalization factor of satellite broadcasting,
the book stresses each South Asian government's reaction of "public interest"-hence
the title of the book.
"We tried to suggest some
strategies for reform of the state sector and decentralization of broadcasting
as a means to give a voice to local and regional communities," said Crawley. "There
is a growing need to adapt to all parts of the rural and urban communities so
they can be better served by the new media, in social, educational, and entertainment
with the release of the book "Satellites over South Asia: Broadcasting Culture
and the Public Interest," the British Council organized a discussion with the
authors and various Indian television specialists, in addition to screening the
documentary "South Asian Media," directed by Napur Basu.
Sharma, chief producer of Indian government TV Doordarshan (Prasar Bharati Corporation),
Mumbai, joined most of the private channels like Sony TV and B4U cable channels
on the panel to debate the role of government in broadcast. Most of the cable
providers and independent producers questioned which role the government should
take, taking into account the 60 percent of the Indian population who only watch
Bharati Corporation has recently allocated its CEO Rajiv Shah (TBS interview 2000)
to another position, and the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma
Swaraj said she is setting out a "cost-effective strategy to extend coverage to
all parts of India, including remote and sparsely populated areas."
in response to the book's conclusion, Swaraj also addressed the Seventh International
Conference and Exhibition on Terrestrial and Satellite Broadcasting organized
by the Broadcast Engineering Society in New Delhi, emphasizing that "the role
of Prasar Bharati becomes more vital for informing people about socially relevant
issues, developmental efforts, and policies of the government and issues which
are vital for the country. Prasar Bharati needs to exploit the unique advantage
of terrestrial broadcasting for generating and transmitting local content."
Sharma echoed this concern over a government channel's responsibility in response
to the book's conclusion around satellite globalization and its impact on public
interest. The following is an excerpt of his comments advocating a stronger role
as a public broadcaster for Doordarshan.
advent of digital TV and an explosion in the number of satellite channels, many
argue that there is no need for public service broadcasting. A recent article
in the Economist went straight to the point: 'increasingly public service broadcasters
will have to compete with hundreds of new television channels. The world which
has allowed public service broadcasting to flourish is disappearing'.
now part of a new worldwide multi-billion-dollar industry, and the marketplace
is vibrant with video merchants and mega-video merchants, creating and selling
all kinds of values, principles, and programs. And as fast as they make it, TV
will take it. Here quantity competes with quality.
is no different, and the television here is going through an identity crisis.
The private channels here are aping the West and Doordarshan is aping the private
channels. The announcement of Prasar Bharati brings a ray of hope to the uncontrolled,
directionless television growth in the country as that of a public service broadcaster.
conservative estimate, India has around 50 million TV sets. A license fee of Rs
300 (approximately $6.20) per set, per annum would general a revenue of around
1,500 crore (about $300 million) annually, which is double the advertising revenue
collected by Doordarshan in the year l996. This does not mean that we should do
away with the advertising on Doordarshan; the license fee gives us the freedom
to be more selective and discerning as a public service broadcaster.
way to collect the license fee in a huge country like India is to follow the method
used in Singapore. The authorities, by the stroke of an ordinance, decided to
implement a license fee on all TV owning households. In case one did not own a
TV set, merely an affidavit was required. The fee could be collected through the
electric bill, either twice yearly or annually as is practiced in Mauritius. One
or two percent service charges could be paid to the electricity department so
as to do away with a new generation of manpower and paperwork.
"I am of
the opinion that over the coming decades, public service broadcasting (in our
case Prasar Bharati) will become more, not less, important. First, it will not
be replaced by dozens of viable minority interest services, and it will remain
a major engine of providing budgets for new rather than recycled or imported programs.
of public service television is to put quality first, and to promote pluralism
because it increases the quality of programming." TBS