Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Public Broadcasting

I do not have cable TV at home. I have access to only one channel and that is the local public television channel, which I watch once in a while. Some of the programs on this channel are extremely entertaining and educational; especially the science programs (Nova, Nature and some others) and the news analysis programs (Frontline and some others). Most of this TV stations's programs have very little or no advertising. It is mostly supported by contributions from viewers, other donors and may be some funding from the government.

I am beginning to realize the importance of good public television for strengthening democracy. The vast terrestrial network Doordarshan in India has is such an asset if used effectively. The Indian government should loosen its grip on public TV, make it truly autonomous and guarantee funding to it and also allow it to accept donations from viewers and others. It should ensure that public TV becomes a forum for independent film makers and also promote investigative journalism as a check on both government and corporate activities. Perhaps it could invite documentary film makers to produce high quality educational content for national broadcast.

Television can be made a little interactive by allowing viewers to choose what programs they want to watch from a list of options. Previews of these programs can be put up on the internet or in the near future on cell phones. Viewers can then vote for which programs they want and the one which gets the highest votes can be aired. Surely this isn't too difficult to do and all the technology needed already exists.

Operating the terrestrial television network on a no-profit no-loss basis ensures that the medium is financially sustainable and at the same time not altogether at the mercy of market forces. This will provide it with some leeway in its choice of content. The same could be done with All India Radio too.

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