DD News reloaded: will it, wont it?

NEW DELHI: Practice makes a man perfect. This seems to be the adage followed by the Indian government and pubcaster Prasar Bharati Corporation, which oversees the functioning of Doordarshan and All India Radio.

It may be another thing that the cost of practice is picked up by the taxpayers of the country. So, preparations are underway to re-launch Doordarshan News, this time in a terrestrial mode.

According to government sources, the finance ministry has cleared an additional grant in aid amounting to Rs 1150 million recently for the Corporation. Part of this amount is to be spent on strengthening the infrastructure of DD, while, according to Corporation sources, a major chunk of this moolah would be pumped into re-launching Doordarshan News as a terrestrial channel.

When first launched in 2000, DD News was a satellite channel and its closure, almost 18 months after its birth, was assigned to poor visibility in cable homes, because of the reluctance of the cable operators to put the news channels on the prime band. It was said that because DD News was a satellite channel, it could not attain the penetration it deserved. Nobody blamed the content.

Replying to a question on the issue, India's information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad informed the Rajya Sabha that the Prasar Bharati Board has decided, in principle, to convert Doordarshan Metro - the entertainment channel in the DD stable, into a 24-hour news channel.

The minister said that the decision has been taken to fulfil a growing desire for news among the viewers, particularly among those without cable connections.

With elections in five Indian states slated to be held later in the year and the general elections scheduled for the latter half for 2004, the government has given the go-ahead for DD News to be re-launched in a new avatar --- hopefully better this time.

It is also learnt that tomorrow, 5 August, senior officials of Prasar Bharati would have a brain-storming session with its advertising agencies, JWT and TBWA, to decide on the future of the DD News and its relaunch. The whole ambit of marketing, content and communication strategies is supposed to be discussed in the context whether this time round programmes on the news channel would be outsourced or mostly made in-house.

"The idea of the meeting is to chart out a roadmap for DD News that is to be launched as soon as possible with 2 October looking like the earliest good date," a source in Prasar Bharati said, adding that it is being contemplated whether to put a stop to commissioning of programmes to outside producers altogether or not.

Prasar Bharati sources pointed out that joint-production or co-production between DD and private producers may be a route that can be taken if news and current affairs programmes were to be farmed out this time round. Another suggestion that has come forth is to put definitive cap on the percentage of programming that would be outsourced, a figure that would be adhered to at all costs.

Head of the creative committee set up by Prasar Bharati last year to advise it, Ad guru Alyque Padamsee, it seems, has also suggested that there should be programmes on DD News that would give a roundup of various sections like business, entertainment, sports and even media.

According to Prasad, Prasar Bharati is of the opinion that with its terrestrial edge and the brand value of credibility and objectivity, it will not take long for the proposed news channel to establish itself despite competition from existing private news channels. The minister also said that additional manpower and technical upgradation will be required.

But, the latest joke doing the rounds of Prasar Bharati does not share the optimism showed by the Corporation or the government. The joke runs like this: Which is the most famous programme on Star Plus till date? Answer: 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' (who will become a millionaire). What will be the most famous programme when Doordarshan News is launched? Answer: 'Kaun Kaun Banega Crorepati' (who all will become a millionaire).

Prasar Bharati Corporation, an autonomous body formed under an Act of the Indian Parliament in the late 1990s, oversees the functioning of DD and AIR, two of the biggest broadcasters in the world. Since it was part of the information and broadcasting ministry, officially till some years back, the corporation also carries a baggage of over 40,000 employees. They, according to several panels set up to look into the restructuring of DD and AIR, are making the corporation lethargic and inefficient considering the vast infrastructure at its disposal.

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