Keep this alternative alive and healthy

BY Padmaja Shaw| IN Media Practice | 28/06/2008
If anyone wants a model for socially responsible, public interest broadcasting as an alternative to the commercial cacophony that satellites pour into our homes, the Lok Sabha channel would fit the bill.
PADMAJA SHAW says the idea is to recognize that one cannot please everyone.

By July 24 the Lok Sabha channel completes two years of its interesting existence as a 24/7 channel. The channel was running under the supervision of Bhaskar Ghose, former I&B Secretary and is believed to be the brainchild of Somnath Chatterji, Lok Sabha Speaker. According to The Hindu report before its launch, it has a revenue model designed for self-sufficiency.


The channel has a well thought out programme mix. It has discussions on current affairs like the nuclear deal with people who have shaped the policy and those opposing the policy participating. It has discussions on the various Parliamentary standing committee recommendations with experts. It has interviews with eminent people from the arts and literature. It has documentaries that closely examine programmes like the NREGA. It also transmits FTII diploma films and NFDC films.


For instance, last Sunday, 22 June 2008, the channel had a discussion programme on Standing Committee recommendations on Labour in its ¿Searchlight¿ programme. The show was anchored by Siddharth Varadarajan of the Hindu. The anchor and the experts participated in the discussion to enlighten the audience as much as possible. Varadajan¿s incisive questioning and unobtrusive anchoring steered the debate through the intricacies and shortcomings of the policy on unorganized labour. Varadarajan is probably the best anchor on public affairs on Indian television today – dispassionate and incisive. He does not crinkle his eyes and clench his teeth to question the experts. Refreshingly, neither the anchor nor any of the participants interrupted each other to score brownie points for cleverness. The staging of the show is frugal but attractive.


The same day there was a documentary on the problems of implementation of NREGA in Karimnagar district of Andhra Pradesh. The programme was ably anchored in Hindi but showed both the successes and failures of aspects of implementation. Through the course of the show, one is educated about the specifics of the NREGA and what the beneficiaries and social auditors should look out for. Again, the execution of the documentary was direct, simple and intended to communicate with clarity and not to clutter it with sensational claims and counter-claims. A fair lesson in objectivity.


The other highlight of the day of course was the interview with the iconic Gloria Steinem in the ¿In Transit¿ programme. This programme, of all the others, needed better handling. Listening to Gloria Steinem was a treat in itself, but the interview was obviously shot with a single camera, and the anchor¿s questions were recorded later. No care was taken to ensure the direction of the look of the anchor. Recording questions later also needed to be done carefully because the anchor sounded stilted and rehearsed. The interview and the anchor would have worked out so much better if a little more attention was paid to the production.


Mrinal Pandey does the ¿Bathon Batnon Mein¿ show for the channel. It is a simple interview show with personalities from the arts, public affairs and cinema. The relaxed and gentle presence of the anchor, and the well-researched interviews she does are worth watching.


The programme ¿Gender Discourse¿ brings excellent, in-depth discussion programmes on women¿s issues, Women and Property Rights, Working Conditions for Women etc. The experts invariably are those who have hands-on knowledge of the policy formulations and implementation.


And all this without anyone selling you Coke, mobile phones, junk food, fast bikes, fast cars and other such urban delights. There are short breaks for public service announcements.


Being a regular watcher of the channel, one feels that if any one wants a model for socially responsible, public interest broadcasting as an alternative to the commercial cacophony that satellites pour into our homes, Lok Sabha channel would fit the bill. The idea is to recognize that one cannot please everyone. In trying to make programmes that will please everyone, one not only ends up lowering cultural and intellectual standards but subverts the very democracy we all profess to defend through ¿free¿ media. It is a boon that the channel is a must carry channel and is available on DTH platforms like TataSky.


Early this month, Mr Ghose demitted office. There is a search on for his successor. One hopes and prays, whoever is the successor continues the great work the channel is doing and takes it a notch higher. In some ways, the Lok Sabha channel has demonstrated what is possible given modest resources and good ideas, if only there is a will.










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