MUMBAI: With the Union Cabinet on Friday clearing a proposal for starting DD News by closing DD Metro, national broadcaster Doordarshan is all set to launch its 24-hour news channel from 3 November.
With a recurring expenditure of Rs 540 million, the government will provide budgetary support for the first two years during which it will have to become self-sufficient, the Press Trust of India quoted parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj as saying, after Friday's cabinet meeting.
"We have taken up the challenge of generating revenue from DD News so that self sufficiency can be achieved at the end of the third year," Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma had told journalists last Wednesday on the sidelines of announcing an initiative to start voice training (for radio) culture through the Staff Training Institute of AIR.
According to Sarma, the revenue target for the remaining period of the current financial year, ending 31 March, 2004, is Rs 20 million. For the year 2004-05, the target would be Rs 200 million and for the next year the goal is to try mop up Rs 540 million.
Terrestrial viewers as well as the satellite signal viewers will be able to receive the proposed channel thereby giving it a distinctive edge over private satellite news channels. DD Metro terrestrial channel can be received by about 43 per cent of the population.
The decision to close DD Metro is not without its opponenets though. A public interest litigation (PIL) petition challenging the government’s decision to convert DD Metro into a news channel has been filed in the Delhi High Court, PTI has reported.
After a brief hearing on 2 October, a bench comprising Chief Justice BC Patel and Justice AK Sikri, deferred the hearing to 22 October.
PTI reported that the PIL, filed by one Vinod Jain through senior advocate Rajiv Nayar and Kamal Mehta, alleged that the decision to convert the free-to-air entertainment channel into a news channel was because of extraneous considerations.
The petitioner pointed out that the DD News "experiment" had already been tried earlier with disastrous results. DD news was first launched in 1999 at a cost of Rs 930 million. It was eventually shut down on 25 January 2002 due to heavy losses.
Meanwhile, the project report prepared by Prasar Bharati had initially envisaged an investment of Rs 1310 million, including the cost of additional manpower that would be needed for the news channel. The project report had said that since there are very few people with DD metro channel (that is being closed down to make way for DD News), more staffers would be needed and permission had been sought to go in for direct recruitment, an exercise that has been frozen for quite some time now, considering the size of Prasar Bharati, which has on its payroll over 40,000 employees.
When the finance ministry raised objections, this figure was subsequently pruned to Rs 960 million. The finance ministry ultimately gave its okay for additional aid of Rs 560 million for DD News.
At present, DD telecasts news bulletins from Delhi Kendra for a total of three and a half hours every day and the regional News Units put out news bulletins for a total time of approximately twelve and a half hours daily.
DD News targets self-sufficiency in Year 3 of operations