Home / Opinion / Views /  It’s pointless pushing TV to serve national causes

In black-and-white days, as millennials can confirm with grandparents, almost everything that appeared on moving screens in India was in the national interest. State-run Doordarshan had a monopoly on telecasts, so good farming practices got priority, while the risk of deviant fare in movie halls was balanced with must-run ‘news reels’ to acquaint even escapists with the nation’s progress. But then a satellite invasion took this idyll apart and tiny screens with internet access blew to bits and bytes the idea of a ‘national audience’. Since it’s no point blaming Apple’s brand vision circa 1984 for these splinters, the state has taken what it probably sees as a practical approach. It has been in pursuit of its own regulatory solutions. This week, India’s government declared a new rule. All broadcasters that reach Indian TV screens must deliver half an hour of daily fare in the national interest. This is reported to have foxed many. Some may have assumed that’s what they were doing anyway. Others would wonder what might pass that test. But then, like in the old B&W days, when rooftop antennas had to be twisted for better reception, perhaps clarity will prevail with some trial and error.

The idea of such a mandate has been around since 2008, and it still seems more like an error than a trial. Maybe news channels could claim the first right to protest. The daily din that gets drummed up in ‘debates’ is usually presented as a contest of nationalism, after all, with the score kept in decibel levels. The air-time devoted to this exercise of lungs would easily exceed 30 minutes, as these channels may see it, and while the odd overdo can strain diplomatic ties, they may still consider themselves compliant. Sports telecasters could also claim to be proactive, given that international cricket is their staple and all it takes is a live camera panned across a huge stadium to drape screens in our tricolour, instantly achieving a Har Ghar Tiranga effect. As for the audio part of that audio-visual feed, any mike can pick up hearty chants of “chak de India" at such events. There was a time when literalists would confess confusion over it, as that phrase—‘throw it’ in Hindi—seemed better suited to a javelin fling or hammer throw, or even fielding, but not bowling, let alone batting. But that was before the confused grasped the national spirit it captured. The roar goes back to olden days, when chucking away the planks of a bridge after getting across spelt ‘no retreat’, no matter what. Nowadays, the slogan signifies passion for progress, which is the real stuff of national ambition, surely, the sort that survives the shock of, say, a T20 World Cup loss.

As it happens, everyday patriotism has been raising its pitch too. Semantics and opinions on what serves our best interests needn’t detain us. Picture, instead, the broad refuge that LD regulations in HD times (pardon the jargon) could offer TV channels that hold the bulk of our eyeballs agog. General entertainment may even have an edge in fulfilling the sarkari quota of air time. For one, these shows make no bones about their purpose, which is salute-worthy to begin with; for another, they’re reputed to pack in plenty of joint-family dynamics, so scripts could plausibly be stretched the way of one-earth and one-future to satisfy our G20 mantra. In short, even these channels can claim to be serving a big cause. Last but not least, there’s also cinema-fed TV, whose unifying role has long lain in the common tunes we hum on the streets. No state insertion in what’s on air can drown that. And with such enthusiasm in play, New Delhi might as well drop its diktat.

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