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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

television and malayalee

Television and Malayalee Life

C S Venkiteswaran





Television is an ubiquitous presence in Malayalee life. Within a brief period, it has emerged as the most popular and influential medium in our society and polity. Setting our political agenda, voting patterns, culinary preferences, and even our personal tastes, this omnipotent medium virtually wields the power to create, sustain and destroy. Many an issue has been raised and erased by it, and many a politician and public personality made and demolished by it, throwing all notions about the private and the public into disarray,. Nowadays, it also creates singers or performers out of all of us, through its umpteen ‘reality’ shows.

The televisual experience of a Malayalee household is a multilayered affair and functions at least at four levels: the local cable television channel that beams local news, events and programmes, the language channels that now address Malayalam-speaking population across the globe, the ‘national’ channels in Hindi and English, and the international channels. And these channels together provide an astounding variety of programmes - news and entertainment, education and spirituality, movies and sports. It is impossible to imagine how anyone could wade his/her way through this maze every day.

If one takes the Malayalam telecast by Doordarshan in 1985 as a beginning, Television, has never since ‘looked back’. The new economic policies of the 90’s and the ‘opening up of the sky’ brought in its wake, the cable TV revolution, which virtually opened the flood gates of images, information and narratives into our homes. In 1993, the first non-Hindi satellite channel in the private sector in India, Asianet, came and transformed the entire scene; Sun (1998) and Kairali (2000) soon followed. Yet another major initiative came in the form of 24 Hours news channel, Indiavision in 2003. If anyone thought that for a narrow strip of land with a media-hungry population of around 30 million, this was too much, they were proved wrong. Still more channels entered the scene: Jeevan, Amrita, Manorama, People, Kiran, and Yes, apart from the umpteen spiritual channels. Yet another important sector that often goes unnoticed is the overwhelming presence of cable TV networks and their local channels. The cable TV networks in Keralam are not mere distributors of electronic signals but producers as well. Many of them have regular news bulletins and telecast local events live to their audience. The ACV and its Rosebowl (the only metro channel worth its name in Keralam), and Kerala Vision, which is a state-wide channel, also beam programmes round the clock. As for the economic model that sustains such proliferation of channels, one is left clueless, for this has not happened in any other language in India. Of one thing one can be sure, the size of total television ad revenue has definitely not grown in proportion with the increase in the number of channels. Yet, the channels manage to survive! That is Kerala Model in television for you. Obviously, such proliferation is driven not only by economic and political interests, but also by communal, regional and other interests. Surely, it also has to do with the insatiable media appetite of Malayalees.

When television sector was opened up for private players, it was feared that it would lead to ‘MTV-isation’ of our culture. But when one looks back, what one finds is not an one-way flow, but a complex process of acceptance, rejection as well as adaptation. But has proliferation actually led to diversity in content? Sadly, no. If one flips through these channels one is struck by similarity rather than difference. Channel after channel follow the same patterns, formats and even time schedules. The crucial question is, despite this massive expansion of media time and space, whether real issues and the marginalized in our society find a place there.

One significant change that has occurred during the past decade is the capture of television by the people. Till recently, spectators were passive consumers of television content: they watched serials, news programmes and live events, heard professional singers and enjoyed trained performers. But now, the roles are reversed. With the reality shows, all hitherto avid viewers of television have become performers with the ‘professionals’ watching and judging them. With citizen journalism, anyone with a mobile is a potential TV journalist.

So is the case with news. Every other issue becomes ‘Breaking News’ and issues often reduced to mudslinging. If people discussed politics in tea shops and reading rooms earlier, now they discuss about TV news and reports about it. With television’s overwhelming emphasis on the local, are we losing sight of the national and the global and its perspectives?

Anyway, television is here to stay and very much part of our lives. What comes of it depends upon what we make of it.

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