TV comes to India: a talk with its top broadcast official
``In one year India has registered the biggest information explosion in the history of communication,'' according to Mr. S. S. Gill, secretary to the Indian government's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. India's director general for TV reports to Mr. Gill, as do the directors general for radio, press, and film. ``Within the past year we have brought 70 percent of the population within reach of TV signals as against 23 percent one year back. We have raised the number of TV transmitters from 41 to 180 in just one year. And they are all manufactured indigenously.'' India is also expanding its production of TV sets. According to Mr. Gill they are already producing 12- and 14-inch sets which cost about $100 per set.Skip to next paragraph
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But don't expect to see ``Dallas'' on Indian television.
`` `Dallas' represents a threat to Indian culture,'' said the solemn-visaged, gray-flannel-suited Mr. Gill, as he chatted with me here from his leather-upholstered chair behind an enormous desk with three telephones in his office at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. On the wall behind him were photos of Pandit Nehru and the Himalayas. ``We try to ensure that programs like `Dallas,' which are subversive of our culture and promote the Western culture of crime, violence, and sex, do not appear on Indian television.''
Despite Mr. Gill's strong anti-``Dallas'' feelings, it is still possible to see ``Dallas'' in India on bootlegged videocassette tapes in private homes or on closed-circit TV in the rooms of luxury tourist hotels. And in a land where only G- and PG-rated American films are permitted to be shown in movie houses, I saw ``10'' and ``Saturday Night Fever,'' both definitely ``adult'' films, close-circuited to the TV set in my room at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. I told this to Mr. Gill.
He feels these showings of pirated films on hotel closed circuits ``are expressions of free enterprise'' of which ``we thoroughly disapprove. . . . We are trying to curb it and have passed legislation against it.''
He also looks upon home-video VCR exposure with much disdain: ``To a limited extent the nouveau riche feel it is a status symbol and somehow manage to import dirty programs and see them on the cocktail-party circuit.''
``Doordarshan'' is the offical Indian television channel. It is a Hindi word meaning ``a view from a distance'' and, according to Mr. Gill, ``it is meant to be a literal translation of TV.''
Mr. Gill explained that, since so many Indians cannot afford their own TV sets, Doordarshan is laying much emphasis on community viewing. ``The government is giving TV sets and heavy subsidies for the purchase of TV sets by village communities.''
Observers of the Indian TV scene, myself included during a four-week stay in India, have found many of the programs dull and drab, if high-minded, with a deadly didactic approach.
Mr. Gill claims there are a total of 4.5 million TV sets in India. ``As many as 10 people watch each set, so 40 to 50 million people can be watching at any one time.''
But do that many actually watch?
``We do not have any elaborate method of rating such as there is in your country, but we have our own research units which are given specific assignments to conduct surveys and give us feedback.''
What programs do Indians watch?
``The most watched programs are Hindi films. Then there is a program based on film songs. And we have started a number of TV serials which are very popular. Also news bulletins are popular.'' The majority of the programming -- informational and educational films -- are not on the most-watched list.
Mr. Gill denies that government-approved news programs are apt to reflect only the current government's point of view. ``News programs are produced by professional newsmen,'' he insists.
But aren't they usually part of the government organization?
``Yes, but we get our news feed from various international news organizations.'' Recently, however, there have been protests from some Indian journalists who believe that the official news broadcasts are slanted to give only the government's point of view.