The Bhaskar Ghose Glasnost

Swami, arguing against my point that deregulation makes things better, claims that Tamil TV hasn’t got better at all after the entry of private channels – the positive changes have been balanced out by the negative ones. My only experience with TV in Tamil Nadu involved watching midnight masala on Sun TV when I was in Chennai, so I am not very qualified to comment about that. But about National TV, I partly agree. Indian TV was at its best during the Bhaskar Ghose era. The quality of serials that were on air at that time has not been equalled since.

But the fact is, the deterioration has nothing to do with deregulation or privatization. The great quality was attributable to one person who was fired when he went too far. I distinctly remember that Doordarshan had become unwatchable by 1991, when the dish arrived. There were reports of bureaucracy and corruption, about how producers had to pay bribes to get their serials cleared, and the cumbersome processes they had to follow.

There are three points here. First, people often argue that great art flourishes under State patronage. But they neglect to point out that usually they are not talking of the modern democratic state, but autocracies and monarchies of the past where this happened. “State patronage” therefore just means that great art flourishes under rich guys who happen to have great taste. (Survivorship bias ensures that mediocre and bad art is extinguished from public consciousness.) There is not much evidence that great art flourishes under democratic checks and balances or decisions by committee.

Second, even when we have examples like independent, decent media like the BBC or the PBS, we do not know how to replicate that success in other countries. With private players, we will get mediocre art, but at least we know how to do it.

Thirdly, government success decays. One of these days, I will write a post about why it happens, but it does.

5 thoughts on “The Bhaskar Ghose Glasnost

  1. So is it a case of Bhaskar Ghose’s glasnost being overthrown by 1991 perestroika? 😉

    If this post was meant to refute Swami’s argument then I think it fails to address the issue of why after deregulation has the television industry failed to get some basics right. I am not saying that it has failed but it is a fact that despite competition, relatively little stranglehold from the Prasar Bharati etc. it still hasn’t evovled the quality programming of pre-cable era.

    Bear in mind that here I am not taking an ideological position. I think that cable television, in spite of failing to create high quality programming. has certainly improved the variety of programs and caters to a wider segment of the audience. Deregulation has made life easier for a lot of television audiences. However, I just wish to point out that by making the argument about personality Vs institution in case of Ghose, you have avoided to address the issue raised by Swami:

    Though the point that – many regulations hinder the entry of “good players” – can be accepted in theory, I don’t know how it can be extended to assert that simply removing the regulations will ensure [a substantial] entry of good ones.

    And in India, there have been quite a few cases where removal of regulation and introduction of free-market concepts have not delivered the expected improvement in quality/service. They have only enabled division of the market pie among more crooks.

    The criticism on regulations is valid. But the removal of them is just a wash with respect to overall impact.

    Swami’s question about the advocacy of “First deregulate” then talk attitude about higher education in light of the television adventure has not been answered in the post.

  2. “The quality of serials that were on air at that time has not been equalled since.”

    Disagree. I used to think so till I caught reruns of Buniyaad and Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi on my cable channel a few months ago. They were mediocre, nothing like I remembered. They were all we got in those days, so we liked ’em. I think we’d react differently if they ran today.

    One point of comparison: Sarabhai vs Sarabhai is a far better comedy than YJHZ was. Watch ’em side by side, you’ll know what I mean.

  3. Even in the BG era, DD News bulletins were generally quite terrible. And while a couple of serials were quite good, I doubt if the overall quality of stuff on DD was ever really great. DD continued to provide the occasional good serial now and then even after he was gone. It probably still does, though I don’t watch TV these days.
    Of course, none of this negates your point that a benevolent and efficient monopoly *can* exist.
    However, the point is rather moot because this would not be a stable state of affairs.

  4. You really have to struggle to put together a committee whose taste is worse than the average taste of the market as a whole. If you leave it to the market, it usually leads to a race to the bottom (as far as art, literature, etc is concerned). Sure, the better products somehow find a niche market, but it is the crasser, grosser art products that garner a lion’s share of the market.

    Market fails whenever there is a disconnect between the market’s immediate preferences for a product and what is good in the long term for the society as a whole. In the case of most material products there is no such disconnect. Faster, cheaper, better looking, smoother, whatever is what the market prefers and that’s what is good in the long run too. Market system is perfect in such a situation. However in the case of arts, one could argue that if only you take some time in teaching the market to develop a taste for “better” products (say classical music or meaningful serials or Test cricket, whatever) and assuming they do develop such a taste, then you will be on a path of better and better products. However, if you start off at a stage where market prefers say, Mallika Sherawat or K-serials or WWF, then soon all the “better” products will be driven out of market, you are only left with these crass products with the vendors competing with one another by increasing the crassness. Soon, you are caught in a vicious circle where there is no one to even provide better alternatives even if the society eventually realizes that they have taken the wrong path.

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