Development Broadcasting in India and Beyond: Redefining an Old Mandate in an Age of Media Globalization

Article excerpt

The advent of commercial satellite television has changed the media landscape in many Asian countries that primarily had state-run broadcasting systems. As a result, long-established broadcasters have been forced to reassess their role in a newly competitive market. This study examines the fate of one of the central practices of Third World media--the development model of broadcasting--in the face of an increasingly globalized and commercial media environment.

Specifically, this study of India's public broadcaster, Doordarshan (DD), explains how the broadcaster has been struggling to respond to transformations in the media environment. It details how its past mandate of development broadcasting has come under severe pressure as DD competes with many new satellite and cable channels offering audiences ever more choices. Beyond evaluating the Indian situation, this investigation challenges entrenched assumptions about the current demise of development broadcasting and proposes a new model of it in a competitive and globalizing media world.

Using the Indian broadcasting situation as an example has the advantage that this evaluation can be based on one of the most intensely studied media systems in the developing world. Numerous scholars have contributed to the analysis of the impact of media globalization and commercialization on Indian society and culture over the last 15 years (e.g., Crabtree & Malhotra, 2000; Manchanda, 1998; McMillin, 2003; Nanjundaiah, 1995; Rajagopal, 1996). Such in-depth work allows the authors to move a step further to a meta-analysis of these trends with regard to the impact on development broadcasting.

After an overview of the past and current situation of development broadcasting in general, DD's specific approaches to this type of broadcasting are analyzed. Findings show that DD's decision to compete with commercial broadcasters' offerings came at the cost of ignoring the constituencies and subjects it most needs to focus on. In trying to become a competitive player among the domestic and global channels, it has found itself financially challenged and, in many instances, in the role of a follower rather than a leader. The analysis then draws attention to some problematic assumptions and arguments shared in the scholarly debate surrounding its future. Finally, some solutions are proposed for an alternative model of development broadcasting. This study advocates a new type of development broadcasting that establishes a distinct brand with regard to content and identity and plays an important role in creating an informed citizenry.

Television and Development

Over the last 50 years the impetus for many third-world countries to venture into the cost-intensive development of an independent television system was driven by the perceived importance of broadcasting to national development. Starting in the 1950s and throughout the Cold War, both media scholars in the West and media planners in the third world justified and theorized the significance of broadcasting in the development process for an increasing number of countries gaining independence. In the United States, communication scholars such as Daniel Lerner, Wilbur Schramm (Lerner & Schramm, 1967), and Everett Rogers (1962) based in the dominant paradigm stressed that these new developing countries needed broadcasting to establish a sense of national identity and to support modernization projects and campaigns.

Likewise, in countries under the influence of the Soviet Union, the Marxist-Leninist model of journalism as an educational force supported the idea of the media as a means for development (Cambridge, 2002). Even countries in the nonaligned movement such as India favored the development focus of the media. In general, as Eko (2003) explained:

   Media were to concentrate on the task of disseminating information
   and messages that would improve agricultural production, health,
   education, national security and other vital areas . …