A makeover for the public broadcaster is urgent, necessary and possible

THE CONTROVERSY THAT erupted over the last few weeks over TRPs and India’s true television viewing habits, has highlighted the fundamental lack of both trustworthy data and a trustworthy voice in the Indian media landscape. There is, however, one broadcaster that does have public support and dedicated, non-controversial viewership – Doordarshan. Now is a good time to give this steady player a serious and long-overdue makeover, to push it closer to the realm of global public broadcasters.

Two reasons why: First, news has become entertainment not journalism, and DD takes its viewers back to staid but solid reporting of the news – essential in a democracy. Second, in 2022, India will be on the global limelight – as President of the prestigious G20. India will also celebrate 75 years of Independence in 2022. According to Gateway House, a foreign policy think tank in Mumbai involved in the global G20 engagement, a new age public broadcaster is needed. India needs to amplify its position on the global stage on subjects ranging from climate change to digital governance, both during the build-up to the G20 and after the summit. The public broadcaster has its work cut out. With some structural change and digital upgradation – stating now – DD and Prasar Bharati, can ready for it.

It doesn’t have to be a big investment. Prasar Bharati has made many changes already, like digitization of the archives, and is in the process of cleaning up the agency’s wasteful expenditure and draining contracts, like differentiated rates for producers, rationalizing existing vendor arrangements with news agencies like PTI and UNI, and is looking to digitize the offerings with fairplay to all agencies.

That is a mountain to climb, because Prasar Bharati has multiple, overlapping offerings. Its seven key offerings are AIR, AIR News, DD, DD News, DD Free Dish (DTH), DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television), a digital app called News On Air. These are broadcasts internationally too, reaching 120 countries through various tie-ups. Doordarshan continues to produce and broadcast,a vast array of programmes and shows in all languages in India, with maximum reach across the country. Its sister broadcaster the All India Radio, has increased listenership since Prime Minister Modi’s popular Mann ki Baat began broadcasting six years ago.

In these rocky times for the media, Doordarshan and Prasar Bharati is a steady ship, with respect, reach, width and depth. Though tight on funds, it will continue to be supported by the central government. But its dated technology and to look, and feel and dismal social media presence makes it unattractive to India’s vast new age youth, which is the target audience of its competitors.

A little fixing can help achieve these goals Doordarshan/Prasar Bharati can do the following. One, India’s vaunted software experts can give DD/PB the most seamless, most cutting-edge, most forward-looking web application that takes the viewer through everything with clarity. Its news content should reflect DD’s privileged access to government officials and politicians. Tight security features and search engine optimization will bring DD up on every Google search on Indian news – a feature is currently lacks. A terrific DD website will show off India’s IT expertise, much in the way that India stack has done for fintech.

Two, social media holds the key. Doordarshan/Parsar Bharati’s presence on social media is minimal, and undifferentiated. A good branding agency can help build DD in this space and train a strong in-house communication team. This will help evangelise  the brand at home and abroad.

Three, apps aren’t for everybody, and there are other smart options. According to Nasr ul Hadi of the International Centre for Journalists in a country like India where the vast number use Android phones with limited memory, the best option is a progressive web app. It feels like an app but uses the browser, and eliminates issues of privacy faced by most government apps.

Four, study best practice of other public broadcasters, France 24’s presence in Africa has done much to retain the country’s relationships from its colonial past in the continent and the public broadcaster has constantly upgraded and expanded its Francafrique position.

Five, spread the word about Doordarshan Germany’s DeutcheWelle (DW) hosts an annual media forum which attracts media from all over the world and discusses the impact of the newest technologies on the media. Doordarshan can do the same, inviting public broadcasting chiefs from across the world to share their experiences with the pandemic still  raging , a sleek, virtual conference is a good way to welcome the world to India, in preparation for 2022-and the future

The writer is board member Prasar Bharati and a BJP Leader.

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