Regulators

Right time for India-centric global news channel: Smriti Irani

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MUMBAI: Information and broadcasting (I&B) minister Smriti Irani is ready to take India abroad. The minister has said it is the right time for the state-owned broadcaster to launch a news channel focused on India for the international market, although she added that no decision has been taken yet.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Irani added that Doordarshan’s (DD) quality of content had to improve significantly for it to compete with private news and general entertainment channels but added that Prasar Bharati (DD’s parent body) had the kind of infrastructure and reach that could not be matched by private broadcasters.

According to Irani, the big priorities for the I&B ministry are to minimise the interference of the government, but because I&B is a sensitive area, there are many regulations that need to be reviewed. “I need to increase the efficiency of how we work, because this is the first time in the history of the I&B ministry that we have eight zones specially set up (as communication hubs for the government). Zone-wise, state-wise, our communication has to be strengthened. My third big focus is on communication in local and regional languages,” she said hoping that the CEO of Prasar Bharati can make some big-bang changes.

“The data needs to be democratised—that data cannot have only have a few masters. It is this data that helps fund channels and programmes. It is this data that drives what the viewer consumes. Advertising decisions are based on this data. The kind of programmes produced is based on this data. If the data is opaque, it leaves many questions unanswered,” she said during the interview.

But Irani is not in the habit of casting aspersions at random. “The facts at hand are simply that we do not have details on many aspects related to ratings agency BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council), and when BARC gives us that information I can make a more informed decision. As things stand, there’s very little understanding of BARC in the public domain,” she said.

She said that there have to be more voices from regional media and language-based media houses — editors, creators. “On budget day, when DD was the only channel with the finance minister and ministry officials, we saw a 582 per cent growth in viewership,” she added.

On the talks of expanding the reach of DD News to over 100 countries, she said, “If we do something like this, we will also have to involve the Ministry of External Affairs, but there is no decision on this. Yes, the timing is right to do something like this, and the market also seems to be ready.”

She brushed away claims that the department controls advertising. “That’s a misconception. Government departments and ministries decide how much they want to spend and where they want to spend it. We just become the channel for implementing it. To say I&B decides who spends what and where is an anomaly,” she pointed out.

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