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Commentary/Vir Sanghvi

Privatise DD now!

R Basu Does anybody remember DD3? The upmarket, sophisticated channel that was Bhaskar Ghose's dream? The third terrestrial channel that was going to strengthen Doordarshan's hold over the Indian viewer?

In case you've forgotten -- and most of us have -- let me refresh your memory.

DD3 was Doordarshan's answer to the satellite invasion of upper middle class households. The advent of STAR TV took DD by surprise and Zee TV made a serious dent in its revenues. The corporation's management decided to fight back by turning the second channel into a Zee clone and by creating a new channel to reach out to the STAR Plus viewer.

The concept behind DD3 was perfect. While English speakers did not watch Doordarshan, STAR Plus, the BBC World Service and MTV had finally turned them into television viewers. Unless Doordarshan made a serious attempt to wean them away, the upper middle class agenda would always be decided by foreign satellite channels.

Doordarshan's only advantage over the satellite operators was that it could broadcast terrestrially. That meant that you didn't need a cable connection or a dish to receive its signals. Any old aerial would do. This advantage gives DD1 and DD2 their enormous reach.

The idea was to combine that reach with upmarket programming. Dileep Padagonkar was going to do a breakfast show and Prannoy Roy would to the news. There would be chat shows, good foreign serials (House of Cards was originally bought by DD3) and quality domestic entertainment. The launch date was set for the autumn of 1994.

Then everything went wrong.

Narasimha Rao P V R K Prasad, information adviser to Narasimha Rao and Zee TV fan, went running to his boss to say that the news would go out live and that Prannoy Roy would not listen to him in the way that DD's news editors did. Did the government wish to allow this kind of impertinence?

To his eternal shame, Narasimha Rao agreed with him. Twenty-four hours before the channel was due to go on the air, the prime minister shut it down.

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