Amongst all the mass media today, television attracts the largest number of viewers. Its audience is greater in size than any of the other media audiences. This is because television is able to attract the audiences of all age groups, literate and illiterate and of all the strata of the society.
In India, from the beginning i.e. 1989, television has been used more for education and information purposes than for entertainment. It has performed different functions as compared to the television in west.
Even today, though commercials have entered Indian television in a big way, it's basic purpose has not changed. It continues to perform it's function of national integration and development.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, while inaugurating India's Television Service on September 15, 1959, hoped that television would go a long way in broadening the popular outlook in line with scientific thinking.
There is no doubt about the fact that the technology has given us a major tool in television. It is a very powerful persuasive mass communication medium. How and why we make use of this tool will determine the effectiveness of this tool to enhance the development process.
In India uptil now, television is government owned medium. Therefore, it has to further the cause of development and spread the message of people's participation in development programmes launched by the government.
The Indian model of television programmes is unique as it is expected to pass on the culture from one generation to other and persuasion.
Doordarshan, India's national network has 41 major Kendras (stations) with studios, production facilities and regular programmes originating from the stations and 921 transmitters.
Today, Doordarshan is competing with all cable TV networks in meeting the entertainment needs of the people.
Television in India, through its programmes presents a composite national picture and perspective of India's rich cultural heritage and diverse thinking. They represent various religions and cultural expressions and activities of people, belonging to different parts of India, thus it reflects the Indian society.
Television has been able to influence the people living in remote areas of our country as its outreach has covered the remotest villages and tribal pockets. It is ushering information explosion.
The growth in television both in technology and reach in the last three decades has been phenomenal. It was basically conceived as a mass medium and a mass educator for its large population scattered in remote and culturally diverse areas.
It is supposed to disseminate the message of development and modernization to create awareness for generating public participation. It is expected to support government plans and programmes for bringing about social and economic change and to protect national security as well as advance the cause of national integration.
Television, being an audio-visual medium, brings us into contact with events in an exciting and clarifying way. For example, a live telecast of a national event such as celebration of golden jubilee year of independence, or launching of a satellite, offers meaning to the events that no amount of reading or still pictures or even films could match.
However, this incomparable quality of reality and immediacy is not found in all television programmes, especially those programmes which are prepared specifically for education purposes.
Television is considered as a mirror of a nation's personality. It can recall the past, dwell upon the present and peep into the future of a society. This role of television is all the more relevant to a country like India, having continental dimensions and innumerable diversities.
It has the capability to reach simultaneously millions and millions of our people. Since it can transmit not only words but pictures as well, the significance of television as a medium of mass communication has universally been realised and recognised.
In a country like India where population and illiteracy are the burning problems, electronic media provides tremendous reach for disseminating audio-visual information even in remote areas.
India has diverse cultures, religions and traditions. Therefore, medium like television can play a very important role in developing common understanding among the people and bringing them closer.
It opens up the prospects of educating villagers in the remotest areas, in the affairs of the nation and associating them in the task of development, along with creating wider vision of the world.
Television provides masses a common experience at the same time, in a verifying degree. A telecast can use combination of various audio-visual materials and methods, such as, objects, models discussion, demonstrations, plays, exhibits, chalkboard and so on.
This helps in clarifying the messages to audience varying in their comprehension level. Thus, it makes mass communication more effective and appeals to the groups of varied nature.
Television, like radio, is also primarily a one way channel of communication.
There have been developments in television medium so as to make two way communications possible, but in India this technique is used occasionally only.
For example, at the time of elections we are able to watch communicator and receiver communicating on TV from a distance.
Normally the communicator on a television screen cannot enjoy the rapport with his audience which makes difference between a one-sided performance and a true interaction of communicator and receiver.
Like film, television also stimulates and reinforces ideas, beliefs and tendencies already possessed by the viewer. For example, television repeats and thereby reinforces the messages on family planning, importance of girl's education, marriage age, environment protection, energy conservation etc. Thus, it serves persuasive function.
Television has more flexibility and mobility in its coverage due to audio-visual presentation. This is the reason why it has become a family medium. Family members receive messages in their own environment.
It can show what happened and how it happened. It can show landing of a man on mars, functioning of heart or division of cell through animation. Above all, it can provide entertainment also. Thus, television as a mass medium informs, educates, inspires and motivates.
As far as educational messages to the masses are concerned, television can be the most powerful educational medium because it combines speaking, writing and showing. You not only talk to the masses at one time but you show them what you mean. Thus, TV presents mass demonstration to thousands of viewers at the same time.
Discussing the importance of television as mass media. Saxena says, "Television in India has acquired today newer dimensions, greater popularity and a much wider reach. The moving images of television fascinate people, demand attention and eventually influence their thoughts and behaviour.
The small screen has indeed turned out to be large enough to compress, within itself, India's tremendous cultural diversity over a rather broad social spectrum. Television has become part of our popular culture-part of our life itself (IV).