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Booming: Television News Channels in India

Television News Channels in India

News programs have suddenly become hot property and are vying for attention with other popular programs telecast on different channels. All major television broadcasters are including at least one news channel in their bouquet. The biggest headache for launching a satellite channel is program software for round the clock. At this juncture, newsgathering is a major task for the 24-hour news channels. To cater to this task, the emerging electronic channels have always made an attempt to cover all the incidents irrespective of position, location, and time. These channels not only revolutionized the concept of news on Indian television but also changed the news formats.

Before the 1990s, Doordarshan monopolized newscasts on Indian television and turned the news programs into a dowdy exercise. Now the private channels made the news an essential commodity like food, cloth, and shelter. The strong point of all today’s news bulletins is their topicality, objectivity, glossy editing, and high-quality visuals. News has traveled a long way from the DD era. From Local events to International events, breaking news to news analysis, television soap to page3 news, every happening comes under the purview of news. This article covered some significant changes in news broadcasting in India before and after the Gulf War.


Indian Television – Flash Back

Television in India is undergoing significant changes in the current liberalized environment. To understand these changes, one needs to briefly understand the road covered by the television channels so far. The journey started on an experimental basis with a financial grant from UNESCO on 15th September 1959. The makeshift studio at Akashvani Bhavan in New Delhi was chosen for the location of the experiment. The experiment started with the one-hour program, broadcast twice a week, on community health, citizen rights, education and traffic sense, etc. As far as news is concerned, it was launched exactly six years after the inception of television broadcasting. Daily one-hour program with a news bulletin was served to the Indian viewers. But one major drawback of television was that you could not enjoy the original color of the objects because of black and white transmission.

The first multi-color program was the Prime Minister’s address to the nation from Red Fort in Delhi on India’s 35th Independence Day. On the same day, the DD National channel was launched. The aim of launching the National channel is to nurture national integration and to inculcate a sense of pride in Indians. Indian viewers also enjoyed the colored version of the Asian Games hosted by New Delhi in their drawing-room. The coverage of major events and different occasions lend a big hand behind the infiltration of television signals to the nook and corners of the subcontinent. Indian Government had taken all possible steps to expand television broadcasting demographically and geographically. In 1983 television signals were available to just 28% of the population; this had doubled by the end of 1985, and by 1990, over 90% of the population had access to television signals. In 1984, the DD Metro channel was added to provide exclusive entertainment for n viewers. In the beginning, this channel was confined to metropolitan cities.

As a public broadcaster, Doordarshan presented the news in a naturalized manner. All controversial issues were pushed under the carpet. The ruling government had a stronghold on television broadcasting. Doordarshan news bulletins were unable to provide the international news to the national viewers. Objectivity had been the first casualty as the news was invariably slanted to suit the party in power. The news was liberated from the confines of the DD newsroom and gained objectivity and credibility when New Delhi Television (NDTV) produced ‘The World This Week’ in 1988. Everyone was waiting for Friday night to watch ‘The World This Week.’ This was the only India-based program, which looked out at the rest of the world. The World This Week was the best current affairs program on the international scenario and carried good news, which the regular DD news failed to carry out. This program is ranked as one of the country’s finest and most popular television shows. In 1989, NDTV produced India’s first live televised coverage of the country’s general elections. The critical and commercial success of the coverage sets a new standard for Indian television. After the Gulf War, the media panorama has changed forever.

Gulf War – The Catalyst

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Post-1990, satellite television in India has become transnational in nature. It coincided with the entry of multinational companies in the Indian markets under the Government policy of privatization. International satellite television was introduced in India by CNN through its coverage of the Gulf War in 1991. In August 1991, Richard Li launched Star Plus, the first satellite channel that beamed the signal to the Indian subcontinent. Subhash Chandra’s Zee TV appeared in October 1992. It is India’s first privately owned Hindi channel to cater to the interest of Indian viewers. This ignition was followed by Sony and a little later by domestic channels such as Eenadu, Asianet, and Sun TV. Entertainment programs had begun to occupy center stage in the organization’s programming strategies, and advertising had come to be the main source of funding. Doordarshan’s earlier mandate to aid in the process of social and economic development had clearly been diluted. Doordarshan had faced stiff competition in news and public affairs programming with international channels like BBC and CNN.

Doordarshan planned to sell some slots for news programs under sponsored category. In February 1995, NDTV becomes the country’s first private producer of the national news ‘News Tonight,’ which aired on the country’s government-owned Doordarshan set a new landmark for Indian television because of its on-the-spot reporting with pertinent visuals. In the same year, TV Today Network occupied a 20 minutes slot in the DD Metro channel and aired a Hindi and current affairs program, ‘Aaj Tak.’ This program became popular for its comprehensive coverage and unique style presentation by Late S. P. Singh. Still, we remembered the sign-up message “Ye Thi Khabar Aaj Tak, Intizar. Kijiye Kal Tak”. A large number of viewers across India had been watching Aaj Tak as a daily habit because of its innovative style of news presentation. Besides that, Nalini Singh’s five-minute, fast-paced, condensed daily news capsule Ankhon Dekhi, TV Today Network’s Business Aaj Tak, and Newstrack was aired on the Metro channel of Doordarshan. This is the period when satellite channels concentrated on entertainment programs for their respective channels. Doordarshan has still ruled the most wanted area ‘news.’

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Major Players

Doordarshan’s monopoly was broken in 1992 when private television channels infiltrated into the Indian boundaries and entertain the viewers as much as possible. At the beginning of the 1990s, the private channels offered only entertainment programs. The entertainment programs include family drama, comedy serials, children’s programs, cartoons, movies, talk shows, recipe shows, musical concerts, non-fiction programs, etc. Private entertainment channels added some infortainment programs to their Fixed Point Charts (FPC). Keeping the demand for infotainment programs in mind, the media houses started to produce news magazines, entertainment magazines, and news programs for different channels. India’s premier business and consumer news broadcaster and a leading media content provider, Television Eighteen India Limited (TV18), started India’s first-ever entertainment magazine, ‘The India Show’ on Star Plus in 1993.

This emerging media powerhouse provided prime-time television content to almost all leading satellite channels in India, including BBC, Star Plus, Sony Entertainment Television, Zee, MTV, and Discovery. After The India Show, TV18 produced a weekly business news program India Business Report for BBC World. Indian viewers had minimal options (like public service broadcaster Doordarshan, BBC, and CNN) for watching the television news. For televised news, the viewers had to watch Doordarshan and some international news channels like BBC or CNN. In this race to provide more news, more information, Zee Television jumped into the battlefield by launching the news channel Zee News in 1995. This News and current affairs channel revolutionized the way news was delivered to the viewers. Since its inception Zee News has endeavored to be the fastest to provide news, working towards a single goal of Sabse Pahle (Always First). The other round-the-clock news channel, the Murdoch-owned Star TV, beamed its exclusively 24-hour news channel, Star News, in 1998. Star made a contract of five years with Prannoy Roy-owned NDTV (New Delhi Television Company) to provide news content for this news channel.

The untiring exhaustive coverage of the Kargil war between India and Pakistan gained more publicity and attracted more viewers towards the electronic channel. This televised conflict also sets a new benchmark for wartime journalism. During the Kargil war, common citizens witnessed how their brave Jawans fought despite hostile conditions and watched the war front live by the exclusive news channels, Star-TV and Zee-News. The live coverage of the battlefield helped to create a euphoria of patriotism among the Indian masses, which later facilitated the collecting of huge funds for the welfare of the families of Kargil martyrs. Every news program draws the attention of a large number of viewers, but the Kargil war attracts private broadcasters to invest more money in the broadcasting business by launching a news channel. In November 1999, TV18 entered into a 49:51 joint venture with CNBC Asia to launch CNBC India. TV18 is the sole program provider to CNBC India and produces 12 hours of local content per day on this 24-hour satellite channel.

After the huge success of the news program ‘Aaj Tak,’ the TV Today group launched a 24-hour Hindi news channel with the same name ‘Aaj Tak,’ in December 2000, which covers India with insight, courage, and plenty of local flavor. Within 11 months of its launch, Aaj Tak emerged as India’s number one news channel and was awarded the Best News Channel award from Indian Television Academy Awards. Some mega events apart from regular interesting items (such as Kandahar hijack, September 11 attacks, Afghanistan war, attack on Parliament, Iraq war, Godhra carnage, and riots) have driven up the viewership. As time passed, NDTV’s five years contract with Star group for the outsourcing of news and related programming expired in March 2003. With the expiry, NDTV forayed into the broadcasting business by simultaneously launching two 24-hour news channels; NDTV 24X7 – English news channel and NDTV India – Hindi news channel, which targets the Indian diaspora across the world. News crazy Indians received more news at a faster speed from different channels.

Any unusual happening can be caught by the television camera anywhere from Rashtrapati Bhawan to the bedroom. The power of TV journalism was become more visible by the major sting operations like Operation West End and Shakti Kapoor Case. This style of investigative journalism has brought about a change in the way we look at news amidst new notions of editorial freedom. The world’s largest family ‘Sahara India Parivar’ launched a 24-hour national Hindi news channel, Sahara Samay, on March 28, 2003. It is the first-ever city-centric satellite news channel covering 31 cities in India with its own city news bulletins. Keeping the demand of news in mind, the Union cabinet approved the proposal to convert the DD Metro to DD news in a meeting held on 3 October 2003. Consequent to these decisions, the DD-News channel was launched on 3 November 2003. You might have noticed that the news channels are language-specific. But DD’s news channel contains the round-the-clock news bulletins in Hindi/ English that are also telecast twice a day on the National Network of DD National.

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‘Aap Ki Adalat’ fame Rajat Sharma, Sohaib Ilyasi, the man behind the highly successful ‘India’s Most Wanted’ and Taun Tejpal, editor-in-chief of Tehelka roped together and launched a free-to-air Hindi news and current affairs channel India TV on May 20, 2004. Indian viewers had more expectations from this channel. The much-awaited news channel hopes to set itself apart from the existing ones by setting new benchmarks of responsible journalism. Speaking on the occasion of the launch, Rajat Sharma, chairman, India TV, said, “We aim to change the way broadcast news reporting is being conducted in the country. India TV will set new benchmarks by maintaining international standards of responsible and credible news reporting. We will stay away from graphic depictions of violence and sensationalism of news. We will uphold the viewer’s right to correct information and their right to truth and verity. India TV is not just a news channel; it is a movement.” NDTV as a pioneer in Indian television news, set to create a fresh revolution in high-quality business news with the launch of NDTV Profit. NDTV launched this 24-hour business channel on January 17th, 2005.