The Chittagong station of Bangladesh Television (BTV) started broadcasting its own six-hour programmes daily from December 31. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the regional satellite TV channel of the state-run BTV network on the day through a video-conference at Gonobhaban in the capital.
The Chittagong station has been broadcasting a one-and-half hour programme daily featuring regional socio-cultural activities and news since 1996. The BTV authorities look to increasing the transmission time to eight hours. Eventually, the transmission will be raised to 12 and, finally, 24 hours. Earlier, its one-and-half-hour telecasts were put on air through terrestrial links with a radius of 40 kilometres.
BTV Chittagong's daily six-hour programme might remind many of the four-hour programme from 6:00 PM to 10 PM daily, except Monday, telecast by Pakistan Pilot Television Corporation in the mid and late 1960s. The station was later called Pakistan Television. The black-and-white telecasts for Dhaka audiences were launched on December 25, 1964. Renamed Bangladesh Television (BTV) after the country's independence in 1971, the programme format of the network remained limited to music, plays, children's sessions, foreign films, etc., and Bangla and English news. The magazine shows became a part of the programmes later. It was not until the early 1980s that the BTV programmes underwent remarkable changes in content and presentation. In 1980, the telecasts became full-colour. The transmission time also increased in the following years, with relay stations coming up in the country's different cities to cover all the regions. The programmes were made in the studios at the Dhaka station. BTV has been transmitting its programmes worldwide through satellite since 2004.
As viewed by media and communications experts in the country, the recently launched Chittagong station of BTV will eventually find itself playing a significant role in the country's mass media. Due to their continually being modernised in terms of style and content, the expectations of people watching the domestic TVs are also on a fast rise. As BTV Chittagong has to grow on its regional character and the government has an express goal to make it another trusted voice of the nation's development activities, the station is set to take upon itself some vital tasks. Prominent among them are dissemination of news and information in helping people keep abreast of the government initiatives in the areas of socio-economic uplift. With the formal launch of the centre, many might start watching to what extent the slogan 'free flow of information' is put into effect in its case. However, it can hardly come free of government control, which is a reality.
Unlike the private TV channels dependent on advertisements, the state-run television network is not bound by financial constraints. It does not have to go for profits. That the government media outlets will keep highlighting its development programmes has become a rule in the developing countries. Bangladesh is no exception. Like its parent organisation in the capital, BTV's Chittagong centre will not be able to come free of the obligations attached to it. A thrust, overt or subtle, on educative and advocacy-related issues will emerge as the centre's focal point.
Nevertheless, being a mass media outlet, the TV channel cannot avoid being responsive to the general viewers' demand for pure entertainment. The south-eastern Chittagong region is gifted with some of the best cultural treasures in the country. They are found in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). It's blessed with a marvellous landscape. Unlike any other areas in the country, it has its indigenous peoples with their ancient and multi-hued traditions. Thanks to the hilly Chittagong region's distinctive cultural identity, a different type of landscape complete with the longest beach in the world, its inhabitants are expected to look for a prominent focus on these features on the BTV Chittagong screen. With the airing time stretched to six hours, the commercial capital of Chittagong deserves to be given a greater spotlight on the TV screen.
The newly launched BTV's Chittagong centre has been set to cater to the entertainment and information needs of viewers in 11 districts of the country. Apart from Chitagong, Chittaging Hill Tracts and Cox's Bazar, they include Noakhali and Comilla, and those in the Sylhet division. The task is challenging.
The ubiquitous private TV channels are virtually on the prowl in their mission to outshine BTV. In the recent past, the state-run TV media has caused little discomfort to them. The scenario, however, has changed lately, with the BTV entertainment proramnmes constantly being made to go by popular taste and demands. Fully equipped with three large studios, one sharing its space with an auditorium, technical supports and the creative talent of seasoned producers, BTV can command the required strength to win over the private channels. The latter may have begun feeling piqued of late. The only problem with BTV is its programmes' lack of professionalism. Few of the producers take their assignments as anything more than a salaried, routine job. That progrmame-making is a creative task and it calls for passionate engagement that eludes most of the producers. What inevitably follows is stale and lifeless productions on the TV screen.
To the delight of the BTV management people, its programmes are slowly coming out of their straitjacket and drab forms. In the recent times, a few of the TV's programmes have been found emerging as being a nice blend of entertainment and educative contents. Although its productions are distinctively skewed towards focuses on government successes in different sectors, its share nowadays in the telecast of those containing pure entertainment is on the rise. With stiff competition coming from the popular ones among the present 23 private channels, the days of laidback posture appears to be disappearing. Perhaps due to this, the state-run TV could not put off for long the daily talk shows on national and global issues. Notwithstanding theirs being bound by informal obligations of toeing the government line, these shows have noticeably breathed fresh air into the overall BTV programme structure. The BTV network enjoys some great advantages. It has rich archives of footage from the country's historical turning-points and nationally important events. The private TV channels, despite their programme varieties and the accompanying glitz, are deprived of these resources.
BTV opened its transmission in 1964 by telecasting mostly entertainment programmes. As an organisation, it has acquired specialisation in planning and broadcasting programmes that went on earning popularity in the following decades. To the woes of the viewers, the state-run TV had eventually been made to pass into the tight clutches of successive governments. The later-day civil society campaigns for BTV autonomy vis-à-vis freedom ended up being exercises in futility. The very concept of state-controlled media and freedom is oxymoron. One may like also to call it a pipe dream. However, remodelled arrangements could at least assure people of a tolerable breathing space as found with India's government-funded national TV network Doordarshan. The network is known for its autonomous character.
With the opening of the initial phase of its full-fledged Chittagong centre, BTV looks forward to launching regional TVs across the country. It's an idea befitting the present world that champions free flow of information. Regional and local TVs add to the healthy growth and vibrancy of societies. Bangladesh can join this new media era by allowing people to open community TVs as test case.