‘India on Television’ – story of TV’s impact on society


New Delhi : Taking a hard look at television news content, quality and reportage, former journalist Nalin Mehta’s new book “India on Television: How Satellite News Channels Have Changed the Way We Think and Act” traces the growth and evolution of television in India and its impact on society.

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There are more than 50 round-the-clock television news networks operating in India in 11 different languages. Most of them came on the scene between 1992 and 2006. The book, published by HarperCollins, traces the evolution of satellite television and how it affected major changes in the India’s political culture in seven detailed chapters.

According to the book, upheavals in the nature of Indian television have been accompanied by a simultaneous expansion in its reach and penetration. Citing numbers, it says that if you divided India’s population of 846,388,000 in 1992 by the total number of television sets in the country, the number of people clustering around a television set would have been a little over 26.

By 2006, the ratio had come down to over 10 people per television set, despite a substantial increase in population. In a little over a decade, the total number of Indian television households tripled to an estimated 112 million, making India the third largest television market behind China and the US. More than 60 percent of the television sets are now connected to satellite dishes.

Mehta explains how television was adapted to suit Indian conditions and how it used new technology to plug into existing existing modes of communication, which in turn led to the creation of a new visual language – national, regional and local.

According to him, “India on Television” is also the story of the country’s tryst with globalisation and is based on a simple premise – when television enters society, it alters society.

“Indian television was controlled by the government till the 90s. And it is difficult to write about Indian culture and politics without referring to television. But there has been a fundamental change recently.

“The advent of the satellite dish has brought in a new form of social engagement – it is also a story of globalisation. You get the best programmes on all the channels, the ‘Big Fight’, Russian porn and Aarushi murder stories. We now have a new paradigm,” Mehta said.

While releasing “India on Television” here Tuesday, Union Minister Oscar Fernandes said Indian television viewers must learn to distinguish between good and bad content. He advocated self-regulation for the tele-media as well as the viewing mass.

According to the CNN-IBN editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai, the book chronicles an important period of growth in television. “We live in a time when people think that media is terrible. We are crap-shitters, we don’t tell stories, we sensationalise and titillate. But Nalin’s book leaves the glass half full, not half empty,” he said.

“The book looks at the time in the early 1990s when you could not do a serious political story on television and now, when there is a cacophony of voices. Television in its manic way has changed the society. The books explores the running theme between ‘marked by control and reform by strength’,” he added.