Television started in India on an experimental basis on September 15, 1959 with a limited transmission of three days a week. The scope of programmes was restricted to educational broadcasts for a limited area around New Delhi. One hundred and eighty teleclubs were set up within the range of 40 km of the transmitter. Every club was provided with a television set by UNESCO. All India Radio provided the engineering and the programme software.

Government of India took initiative to start TV on an experimental basis mainly because two purposes.

  1. To train personals in this new technology
  2. To discover what television media can do to achieve community development.

Television, at this initial stage, was not considered to be a medium of entertainment but primarily an education tool. The Government of India supported the television project financially. In 1961 television programmed for teachers were started. Regular broadcasting of television programmes began in 1965. A daily one hour service started during this year.


The period between 1972 and 1982 saw the rapid expansion of the medium. In 1972 television services were extended to Bombay. By 1975-76 the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) brought television to 2,400 villages in backward areas of Andra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan. This project has been described as one of the largest communication experiments in the world. In 1976 television broadcasting was delinked from All India Radio and was put under an independent organisation called Doordarshan.

AFTER 1982

Doordarshan switched over to colour transmission on August 15, 1982. Besides, this year witnessed the introduction of a regular satellite link between Delhi and different transmitters. The major impetus for these developments was the Asian Games held in New Delhi in 1982.

After 1982, television facilities have been rapidly expanding and during certain periods, the  country got a new transmitter each day. The number of transmitters and programme production centers has increased significantly over the years. On November 19, 1984, a second channel was launched in New Delhi. Later, on April 1, 1993 the Metro entertainment channel was started. At present, Doordarshan telecasts programmes on 19 channels. DD-1 is the primary channel, the flagship of Doordarshan.


Indian Television programming has been consistent with social, agricultural, economic and political aims of the government right from its inception in 1959. Taking their cues from Indian politicians, programming executives put aside the entertainment value of television in favour of its instructive and educational usefulness.

This bias for wholesome, practical and educational television became far more evident in 1975 when Doordarshan, still a part of AIR, launched the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), one of the most ambitious experiments in television history. SITE was the brain child of Vikram Sarabhai, the brilliant physicist and chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission. Sarbhai persuaded the Department of Atomic Energy  (DAE)  and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to work together to bring satellite-based television to India. He also signed an agreement that provided India access to NASA’s Application Technology Satellite (ATS-6) to conduct the one year experiment.

From August 1, 1975 to July 31, 1976, Doordarshan used ATS-6 satellite to beam farm, health and hygiene, and family planning programmes 4 hours each day to 2400 villages in rural India. SITE was also used to telecast entertainment programmes, consisting chiefly of rural art, music, and dance. For the most part, since very few people had their own sets, they watched SITE programmes in communal areas where TV sets were specifically set up for viewing purposes.

SITE’s primary agenda was not only to educate people about solutions to the country’s problems, but also to unify the diverse and multilingual audiences country by exposing them to one another’s cultures.

SITE programmes were produced at production centres in New Delhi, Hyderabad, and Cuttack with the help of university teachers, social workers, and other experts. Some of the programmes were also produced by the Indian Space and Research Organization (ISRO), a wing of the DAE. ISRO was also responsible for installing and servicing the television sets used for the experiment. These sets, for the most part, consisted of ordinary television sets that were each provided with a front-end converter and a chicken-mesh antenna for receiving satellite signals.

SITE’s results were more modest than its designs. According to a 1980 report by Krishan Sondhi, the farm programmes did not have the expected impact. Farmers in SITE viewing areas were not more innovative than farmers who were not exposed to SITE programmes, possibly because they had already learned about the innovations from AIR’s farm bulletins and programmes. Another weakness was that the farm programmes were not adapted to the widely differing farming practices in the SITE viewing areas and consequently were not of much use to the farmers. The health and family planning programmes did not result in significant improvements either.


Doordarshan was Government-controlled organ right from its inception. In 1959, when India witnessed the first experiments in television broadcasting, Doordarshan was only an appendix to All India Radio. Although Doordarshan was delinked in 1976 from All India Radio, it came under the direct control of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. The various Governments at the Centre not only controlled the electronic media but made use of them to promote the ruling party’s hidden agenda. According to I.B. Singh, “Political leaderships have abused All India Radio and Doordarshan (television) for blatant partisan and personal ends mainly in order to crush dissent and promote personality cults”. This has been true with regard to every Government that assumed office in New Delhi.

The demand for autonomy for the broadcast media was gaining increasing support. The National Front Government led by Mr. V.P. Singh introduced the Bill in the first Parliamentary session in January 1990 to grant autonomy to the broadcast media in the country. But the Prasar Bharathi Act was kept dormant for seven years. Finally the Act came into force on September 22, 1997. The Prasar Bharathi Board was formed paving the way for granting autonomy to Doordarshan and All India Radio.

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