Industry rallies round for quake relief

The reports coming out of India's western state of Gujarat in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck the state on 26 January present contrasting tales of hope and abject despair, of examples of great human goodness and of cynical rapaciousness.

From directing viewers to where they route their contributions, to organising fund collection and raising viewer awareness, all the channels to varying extents have worked for the relief efforts. Some channels are organising independent relief drives and most employees have come forward donating a part of their salary to help the families that were shattered by the recent earthquake. B4U Entertainment, Star, MTV, Asianet, Sony Entertainment Television, Zee Telefilms and Doordarshan are among the many who have raised funds towards relief assistance.

The industry has not been spared and has suffered losses both human and material. In responding to the crisis in Gujarat, India‘s television channels have not only brought heart-rending footage of the earthquake-hit into every household, but also worked on various fronts to help in the rehabilitation efforts.

Surrounded by her belongings an old woman waits for transport in the town of Morbi, 250 km northwest of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat. (Courtesy The Newspaper Today)

Zee was first off the blocks in setting up a call-in facility so that people could post messages for loved ones, a company source said. That was when the realisation of the scale of the disaster was just beginning to seep in. Company chairman Subhash Chandra made an aerial survey of the disaster area the very next day to gauge for himself what the situation was. Zee then set up a relief fund for the victims and all employees contributed a day‘s salary for rehabilitation work. Besides that, the Taleem Research Foundation, a trust set up by Chandra, has adopted 50 villages and will work to get them back on their feet as soon as possible.

Star Television is using its popular gameshow "Kaun Banega Corepati" (KBC) to raise funds and has announced a special episode featuring cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar.

"Star will be donating money equivalent to this week‘s winnings on the show which is Rs 4.1 million. Apart from this KBC will have a special show featuring Sachin and a filmstar and the amount won will go towards relief assistance," corporate communications head, Yash Khanna says. "Even the staff will be contributing a part of their salary, the total amount of which we will get to know by Monday," Khanna adds.

Malayalam channel Asianet addressed the problem of relief in a different but no less effective manner. It made announcements on the channel calling for medical volunteers and got such a positive response that it had to do a weeding job. It ultimately settled for a team of doctors and nurses numbering 13 who left for Gujarat from the southern state of Kerala on Wednesday, chief operating officer Mohan Nair says. Enquiries with authorities in Gujarat indicated there were a lot of teams already in Gujarat and too many people would only add to the confusion, Nair says. "We also instituted the Asianet Relief Fund through which we have collected nearly RS 5 million till now," he adds. "A lot of money has come in from the Gulf which has a large Malayalee population," he points out.

B4U Entertainment immediately set up a relief fund with an initial contribution of RS 1 million, corporate head of B4U channel Vinay Kumar, says. "A part of it was made up of contribution‘s from the staff. Other than that, across the globe wherever B4U has operations we have been approaching people to contribute," says Kumar.

Also banking on celebrity appeal is Sony Entertainment Television. They have lined up celebrities to appealing people to donate and will very soon organise a special show featuring screen heartthrob Hrithik Roshan. According to Pratibha Vinayak, Sony‘s head of corporate communications, the staff have contributed a days salary toward the relief assistance. "The company will also be making a direct contribution, but we would not like to disclose the amount involved," Vinayak adds.

MTV, meanwhile, has joined hand with the Times of India Relief Fund and will be running promos six times a day urging people to contribute. "The staff will be contributing a part of their salary and the company will match that figure," informs an MTV source. The MTV crew will also be going around the city urging people to contribute through road shows.

Doordarshan has not been left behind in all this. Apart from short advertisements providing information about the Prime Ministers Relief Fund, the staff is chipping in with a day‘s salary towards donations to the fund. "Nearly 90 per cent of the staff have voluntarily donated their 1-2 days salary towards earthquake relief assistance," informs deputy director, Doordarshan, Chandrakant Barve. "The channel has also been hosting a phone-in talk show ‘Hello Sakhi‘ where we have got scientists, construction engineers and the charity commissioner answering to the queries that viewers have," he adds.

The response from the industry has been positive to say the least and it is to be hoped that everyone‘s efforts pay off sooner rather than later.

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