Television

Sarma takes on critics on eve of DD News relaunch

NEW DELHI: With a bit of brashness, if one can term it that, and taking a swipe at critics, India's pubcaster Prasar Bharati today formally announced that Doordarshan News will relaunch on Monday.

Quoting Woody Allen's famous lines - "In Beverly Hills they don't throw out their garbage, but turn them into TV programmes" - Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma said, "We'd 

make garbage out of others," referring to the second inning of DD News.

On cue, Prasar Bharati chairman and veteran journalist MV Kamath justified DD and All India Radio (AIR)'s late reaction to events in the past - (like the assassination of former PM Indira Gandhi, which was put out on AIR and DD almost eight hours after the incident had happened) - and said, "Prasar Bharati and DD are responsible organisations. No one needs to tell us or remind us of our responsibilities."

Kamath also criticised the coverage of Gujarat riots by some private satellite channels, stating that sensationalism should not be made more important than protecting the sensibilities of people.

Signifying that Prasar Bharati is doing everything to make its news channel work this time, Sarma said that part of the additional financial assistance of about Rs 200 million, granted by the government, would be used to "poach known faces and talents" from private satellite channels. The government has granted the amount to DD News for the remaining period the current financial year.

Though Sarma side-stepped a query on the exact nature of poaching being done - saying there would be people like Rajat Sharma and Nalini Singh on the channel - TV industry sources indicate that some people from Aaj Tak have already shown interest in joining the channel.

DD News has already got Deepak Chaurasia of Aaj Tak as its consulting editor.

Hammering in the point that DD News' reach would be increased rapidly not only through "good content", but also with the help of technology, Sarma said that 12 more high-powered transmitters would be pressed into service over 

the next six months to increase the terrestrial coverage of the channel by 50 per cent.

If that was not enough, Sarma demonstrated rare aggressiveness when questioned by a cable operator - who is also editor and publisher of a cable magazine - whether it was correct to thrust DD News down cable operators' throats, with the help of notifications.

"The law has given me the power and why shouldn't I use it?" Sarma retorted, adding that even the notification is not enough.

Quoting a report on BBC 4, the BBC's domestic news and current affairs channel, Sarma said that a news channel is the very essence of an existence of a broadcaster, especially public service broadcaster. "This new venture 

(DD News) would be a flagship of DD," Sarma said, adding, "We are starting this with some preparation."

The career bureaucrat, who is really enjoying his stint at Prasar Bharati, also pointed out that as per the latest TAM data, news on DD has 37 per cent reach in cable and satellite homes, as against 9.7 per cent of Zee News and NDTV.

Aside from the hype, does Prasar Bharati have a business plan for DD News or will taxpayers' money go up in smoke again, while some experimentation is done?

According to Sarma, the government has agreed to give an assistance of Rs 540 million per year for the news channel and "it would be be DD's endeavour to generate at least 50 per cent of that in revenues for the year 2004-05". He added, "For the year 2005-06, we'd like to raise the amount (Rs 540 million) on our own."

For this, Prasar Bharati's gameplan includes attractive commercial terms for spot buys and sponsorships, good content from the likes of Rajat Sharma, Nalini Singh, 

Rajiv Mehrotra, Deepak Chaurasia's team and sundry editors of newspapers and aggressive distribution.

Thirty minutes at non-prime time can be had for Rs 5,000, while during prime time the amount would double. For advertisers committing Rs five million on the news channel, various sops will be offered like co-sponsorship of evening 

news/samachar and two DD in-house produced programmes for three months, among others, Prasar Bharati sources said.

Also Read:

Notification issued that DD News be put in prime band

EC okays DD News relaunch in November

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