Indian Decade

Indian Govt’s TV Fascination

As the number of TV news stations in India proliferates, government ministries are getting in on the act.

In a country of more than a billion people, it’s perhaps not surprising that India has scores of national and local news channels. But the clamor for a channel of one’s own is now coming from a surprising place: the government.

It’s no longer just private players that want to have their own channel – a number of central government departments and ministries are working overtime to launch their own, too, with the Culture Ministry the latest to hop on the bandwagon.

Other ministries that are seriously considering launching their own TV channels are those for Rural Development, Science and Technology, and Agriculture and Food Processing. Indeed, at one point during her tenure as railway minister, Mamata Banerjee was thinking of setting up Rail TV.

Under the leadership of Kapil Sibal, the Science and Technology Ministry worked to launch a 24-hour weather channel, a move it said would benefit farmers and others whose livelihoods depend on the weather. But after Vilasrao Deshmukh took over at the ministry, he reportedly put the brakes on the project, saying instead that Doordarshan’s vast network of 35 channels should be utilized for this purpose.

The rationale behind the government’s sudden interest in all this is that although it’s spending billions of dollars on national programs to benefit the people, the message doesn’t seem to be reaching the public.

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For example, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh wants to set up a rural channel to help the needy and the poor, arguing that the government gives rural farmers TV sets and power, but that there isn’t a single news channel that caters to their professional needs. Ramesh’s proposal is awaiting the Planning Commission’s green light.

The Agriculture Ministry has also been putting out the idea of a TV channel geared entirely to farmers, which it envisions calling “Kisan TV.” The Ministry used to sponsor an hour-long show called “Grameen Bharat” (Rural India) that appeared on state-owned Doordarshan, but it was seen as of little practical use.

Culture Minister Kumari Selja’s view is that until her idea of a separate TV channel for her ministry is accepted and implemented, the Culture Ministry should set up a production house to tape programs on art and culture and send them to various TV channels.

The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha (the two houses of parliament) already have separate TV channels, which are directly under the speaker of the Lok Sabha and chairman of the Rajya Sabha respectively.