The future of Sikh TV media

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Background Photo: Khamkhor from Pixabay

By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

It would not be overstating the case to suggest that the UK has become something of an epicentre of Sikh TV media over the past 12 years or so. At present there are some eight channels ranging from some that are primarily orientated towards entertainment, such as BritAsia TV, through to wholly religious channels like Sangat TV, and those with a major political focus, as in the case of the newest channel, Politics Punjab. Having this range serving different interests is something of a luxury, and for sure, in terms of TV media presence, the Sikhs in the UK are punching above our weight. However, things are changing and, like all TV broadcast media, the Sikh Punjabi channels are facing an uncertain future.

The demise of the relatively new kid on the block, KTV, also known as Khalsa TV, will be a source of concern for all the channels. Having been suspended earlier this year by the UK media regulator Ofcom (Office of Communications) for a serious breach of its rules, KTV has now formally surrendered its broadcasting licence. Whatever one’s political beliefs or jathebandhi affiliations, this is a sad outcome.

As somebody who has been closely associated with Sikh electronic media in the UK for the past 12 years, I have always felt that the more media outlets we can get the better. It is through a balance of principled competition and co-operation that a strong independent media can emerge. And I can say is that the presence of range of Sikhs Punjabi TV channels has led to the emergence of a good range of opinions and perspectives, as well as some improvements in standards of broadcasting, though there is a long way to go.

So, whilst we celebrate the emergence of new Sikh TV channels in the UK over the past 12 years, the demise of KTV is a source of concern that other channels must take note. As we move forward, there are three major challenges facing those that are still broadcasting.

The first challenge one is the hardening of attitudes by the media regulator Ofcom towards rule breaking. This will mean a much more professional approach to channel management and most importantly editorial oversight. The problem here is that greater professionalism means much greater costs. The model at the moment consists of largely voluntary and casual work with a limited number of permanent qualified staff, which means the channels are continuously exposed to breaches. So we have a catch twenty two situations and, unless a channel can leverage large donations or investments and more staffing, it is difficult to see how they can guarantee complete editorial oversight.

The second major threat, which is linked to the first, is finance. In some senses the lack of finance is a direct consequence of the expansion of Sikh TV. As we have seen more players on the scene, this has resulted in is less money to share out; though it is still astounding how the Sikh sangat has managed to fund 6 channels, at a rough minimum monthly cost of £60,000 per channel. However, with the rise in cost of living and the impact of Covid, there is no doubt that money is tight and the donations from the sangat cannot be taken for granted.

The third challenge is the widespread availability of online media content. Though no longer broadcasting on satellite or cable, to my knowledge KTV continues to broadcast on YouTube. This may not be a bad place to be, especially given the financial pressures on all the channels, along with the massive growth of Sikh YouTube channels. The widespread availability of TV sets with built in YouTube, is resulting in many viewers abandoning terrestrial TV and watching on line. And this exodus is not restricted to tech savvy young people but most significantly elders, who form a large demographic that watch the Sikh channels.

Almost 8 years ago, when there were just 2 Sikh TV channels, I was asked the question whether we would see more. My answer was that though the expansion of terrestrial satellite/cable channels because of the costs would be limited, we will see an explosion of internet-based media outlets. A quick scan on Youtube and social media should confirm that I was correct.

My prediction now is that, with the ongoing expansion of internet-based TV media and a shift in viewing patterns away from live tv and towards asynchronous viewing, along with the squeeze on income, there is a real possibility of the end of satellite broadcasts altogether. But whatever does happen, there is one constant and that is the importance of quality, and in this regard, sadly I have to say much of the present Sikh TV media has a long way to go.

Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

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