Were Doordarshan, AIR of Past Better than Private TV Channels of Today?

Soroor Ahmed takes stock of private TV channels and concludes that the government-controlled Doordarshan and All India Radia were more objective than the present day private television channels.

Written by

Soroor Ahmed

Published on

Soroor Ahmed takes stock of private TV channels and concludes that the government-controlled Doordarshan and All India Radia were more objective than the present day private television channels.


The death of renowned television personality, Vinod Dua, gave an opportunity for the upcoming generation to know something about the 20th century government-controlled Doordarshan – as well as All India Radio also known as Akaash Vani. This is simply because after his demise a handful of objective television channels showed the clippings of Vinod Dua – at times in partnership with Prannoy Roy of NDTV – presenting programmes in Doordarshan in 1980s and 1990s.

There is a lesson for many of the anchors and other journalists of private television channels who blindly support the present establishment. They not only black-out any news which has the potential to have a negative impact on the government, but even distort the facts to suit the ruling party.

In contrast Vinod Dua can be seen in these old clippings asking aggressive questions from even ministers of the past governments (mostly non-BJP ones) while presenting programmes in Doordarshan, which comes under the Information and Broadcasting ministry.

The common argument then was that Lal Krishna Advani, during his tenure as Information and Broadcasting minister in the Janata Party government between 1977 and 1979, had filled a sizeable number of RSS-minded journalists in the government-controlled media. So when the Congress government came to power in 1980, All India Radio and later Doordarshan used to toe a sort of independent line. Thus the situation was different from the Emergency-years of mid-1970s when the AIR was in total control of the then Indira Gandhi government. Not only that, she had clamped censorship on newspapers and the news agency Press Trust of India, United News of India (both English) as well as Samachar Bharati and Hindustan Samachar (both Hindi). In February 1976, that is at the height of Emergency, all these four news agencies were merged into one called Samachar. They came under the direct control of the government. But sometimes after the coming to power of Janata Party they were once again separated and independence restored. There was hardly any role of Doordarshan then.

Whatever be the reason behind Doordarshan and AIR sometimes maintaining an independent line and even allowing freedom to guest presenters several of the programmes were better than the 24×7 trash produced by many of the present-day channels.

Vinod Dua and Prannoy Roy were among the well-known faces. Similarly, Saeed Naqvi used to present a weekly programme on international affairs called World Report and Prannoy Roy The World This Week. And who can forget famous Hindi journalist Surendra Pratap Singh’s Aaj Tak programme every night on Doordarshan before he died on June 27, 1997. It was later that India Today group launched its own TV channel with the same name.

Even after the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 several candid discussions and interviews were held in Doordarshan and even AIR. During the anti- and pro-Mandal months of 1990 Doordarshan telecast several debates in which various prominent journalists from print media used to be invited. Not only Doordarshan, even Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha channels of later years were, in many ways, better than many private TV channels of the present era.

Have we in the last seven years and a half heard anchors and reporters of private TV channels – barring a handful of them – posing bold and uncomfortable questions? Or have they done any story exposing the failure of the government or on rampant corruption in various departments. Instead they waste time in attacking the opposition.

Before early 1990s, when there used to be only Doordarshan and AIR and no private channels, we were cited the examples of western democracies where journalists, both of print and electronic media, used to ask aggressive questions and do stories exposing the failure of the government. In the initial years of the private channels we in India also witnessed some positive changes. For example, During the Gujarat riots days a couple of channels did objective reporting though some others were not so honest and tacitly sided with the then BJP governments, both at the Centre and states.

But gradually the corporatisation of the media started taking place. The purpose of media, mostly electronic ones, now is to make money through advertisement and promote consumerism. The proprietors and the management have little to do with the objective news and serious debates and discussions. As these so-called media barons have many other businesses, they use these channels and even newspapers to promote their other products. By the time the Narendra Modi government came to power in May 2014, the media came under the complete grip of these big business houses. As the present establishment fully suited them, how can one expect independence of media.

The government has, over the years, learnt a much better art of controlling the media. As these industrialists have other big businesses, they normally do not want to antagonise the government. Rather they are in cut-throat competition among themselves to sound more loyal to the establishment.

Not only that, these tycoons, through their channels and newspapers, start opposing any regime which does not suit their business interest or create obstacle in their path.

Thus there is a mutual understanding between the present-day powers that be and owners of various media-groups. Seen from hindsight one can now conclude that, notwithstanding many drawbacks, the government-controlled Doordarshan was more objective than the present day private television channels.

While in late Vinod Dua’s old clippings of Doordarshan years the viewers can find many good interviews, election analyses and other presentations, one can hardly learn anything from the recorded clippings of two anchors of two prominent channels – needless to take their names – who died of coronavirus early in 2021. They are at best known for their hate-speeches and yellow journalism.