News channels hoping for poll pull - Battle at the hustings for news channels in the run up to the assembly elections

Ever since the Election Commission (EC) announced last month that the assembly elections to the four states of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan would be held on 1 December, all the leading news channels have been gearing up to "deliver the best".

In a mad rush to impress upon their viewers that they are unmatched, news channels are promising on-ground surveys, in-depth interviews with politicians, viewers‘ opinions, weekly polls and even a common man representative to face the power-wielders.

As if the existing competition was not enough, a couple more channels have jumped into the fray in the recent months, possibly with the hope of leaning on election coverage to carve their niche. Yesterday (3 November) pubcaster Prasar Bharati resurrected its 24-hour news channel DD News. Not so long ago, on 17 October, Sahara Samay, rather strategically, launched its regional edition for Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Chhattisgarh.

While all eyes are on these new channels, established ones like NDTV, Aaj Tak, Star News and Zee News seem to be in no mood to lie low - they have been working overtime to sustain viewer interest.

And with every other channel promising to be the finest, fastest, smartest and the unrivalled, it is left to the unsuspecting viewer to figure out who is the fairest!

Who‘s showing what

Channels do have an impressive line up of initiatives to keep people across the country informed. What more - with innumerable analysis, surveys, news reports, talk shows and introspects on air, every possible arena of the forthcoming polls seems to have been covered. Here‘s a brief look at how every news channel is presenting the elections:

Considering that the assembly election is viewed as a build-up to the general election next year, Zee has started a daily programm called Singhasan Ka Semi Final across its prime-time news bulletins.

An interactive show MLA Ki Class is aired from Monday to Friday at 7.30 pm. Zee News editor Alka Saxena says, "Throughout this month, leading up to the elections, our reporters will visit each constituency through MLA Ki Class. Reporters will look at the problems faced by people in India and the burning issues. Zee News plans to cover over 200 constituencies through this exercise."

Zee News is also doing a weekly poll across the four states Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in Kaun Kitne Paani Mein on Sundays.

Netaji Kahin, another weekender, is a rapid fire volley of questions on a known leader from each state. The show, based on Aap Ki Adalat, looks at the people‘s perspective and investigates the leaders‘ performance since the last elections.

Kissa Kursi Ka, a daily half-our prime time programme invites two prominent leaders from opposing political parties for a discussion.

Star News‘ Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri (KBM), hosted by Vinod Dua, began its election special late night show, Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri - Aaj ki Baat, from 27 October. This one-hour show is telecast from Monday to Saturday at 11 pm. Aaj Ki Baat features a complete wrap up of the day‘s latest election news from the five states (including Mizoram which goes to polls on 20 November) readying for the polls.

Vinod Dua in Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri, Star News

Star News president, Ravina Raj Kohli says, "Elections are a people‘s event and it is for the first time, a news programme has really gone to the masses, visited remote areas - that are often just election stopovers for politicians - and brought the voice of the people to a national platform where the authorities are forced to listen."

KBM also has its own symbol "reflecting the common man‘s agenda" - the humble ‘autorickshaw‘. The programme started its Auto Yatra in Delhi recently and travels to Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan to deal with ‘real people‘ and ‘real issues‘.

Star Plus says that via this yatra, it has made the politicians answer janta ke sawaal. Former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma, former minister for education in Delhi Harshwardhan and transport minister Ajay Maken, who are currently a part of the Delhi legislative assembly, have as yet been featured in the show. In Rajasthan, Congress leaders like Girija Vyas and BJP leaders like Gulab Chand Kataria were grilled. In Chhattisgarh, chief minister Ajit Jogi and other prominent leaders of this newly formed state were questioned. In MP, chief minister Digvijay Singh faced public queries.

Probably to focus more on quality than quantity, NDTV 24x7 is airing just one show Vote Matters on Sundays 10.30 am.

NDTV India has a 10-minute segment every night on 9 O‘clock News giving an insight into the elections. In Vote Yatra people voice their opinions and concerns on electoral activities. The show also broadcasts live the promises made by the candidates from their constituencies. It explores election campaigns, the preparations by respective parties. NDTV India Executive Editor Dibang hosts Vote Yatra at 8:30 pm on weekdays.

Vote Matters on NDTV 24X7

Another interesting show is the half-hourly Khaberon ki Khabar-Votenama on weekdays at 9:30 pm. The show takes audiences through campaign trails of electoral candidates.

The channel airs its Chunav Vishesh - Monday to Friday at 8.30 pm. The shows cover extensively the states of Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram.

Finally, the channel‘s yet to release Battleground will discuss state by state the political scenario and which way the vote is likely to go. Reputed political analysts will appear in this show.

NDTV India also has some intersting vignettes on the elections. Ek Sawal as the name suggests has one question shot at two opposing candidates who have two to convince the voters as per their arguments. This two-minute vignettes will be telecast through out the day. Janta Bole is another public opinion vignettes of two to three minutes.

The two channels will have interviews with MLAs, public opinion polls, election forecasts, among other features through out the day.

News channel Aaj Tak is planning to launch a daily show Aaj Ka MLA from 15 November, as a part of its comprehensive plan for the forthcoming multi-state elections in the country. This daily programme is slated for 8 pm every day with repeat telecasts. The promos of the show are on air presently. Aaj Tak promises that Aaj Ka MLA will be the first-ever survey of its kind on television.

Sahara‘s two channels - Sahara Samay Rashtriya and Sahara Samay Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh seem to be covering their constituencies rather thoroughly.

While Sahara Rashtriya is tackling serious problems in the northern states through its spokesperson Dharti Pakad, Sahara MP and Chhattisgarh has a line up of progammes concentrating on MP and Chhattisgarh.

Its daily fifteen minute show, Chunav Chakra, which now is being updated and telecast every hour, contains all election related activities of the two states. Shankhnad Chunav Sangram Ka is a one-hour show at prime time (8 to 9pm). This programme focuses on one burning issue everyday. One of the channel‘s on beat (OB) van has been converted into a multi-camera studio named Chunav Rath. The rath yatra which started from Bhopal today plans to cover the entire length and breadth of the two state, into the remote corners, live at least four times a day.

A team of journalists have accompanied the rath. The channel has other shows like Aapka MLA and Public Funda.

Doordarshan News: As for DD News, the channel hasn‘t finalised much on election coverage yet. According to DD officials, coverage would be done mostly by the regional kendras in the states where the elections are to be held. Some of it would be aired on DD News, but the final picture would emerge only after the candidates of various parties are finalised.

Creative juices flowing

Agreed that every channel is busy asserting the uniqueness of its own pre-election programme initiatives. Unfortunately for them, most shows (on most channels) do not seem too different from one another. Amid this sea of look-alikes, however, one can‘t ignore a few creative concepts.

Print ad of Dharti Pakad on Sahara Samay

* Dharti Pakad on Sahara Samay (Rashtriya): He is the television parallel of RK Laxman‘s Common Man. But there‘s a major aspect that separates Dharti Pakad from the Common Man. While the Common Man is the silent, victimized spectator, Dharti Pakad is a mocking, sarcastic individual who talks the language of the people and grills the politicians. A novel concept portrayed aptly by TV and film actor Sanjay Misra. Obviously, somebody at Sahara Samay has been thinking out of the box.

Also, the channel has gone all the way to advertise their character. Sahara Samay yesterday released a print ad promoting Dharati Pakad in one of India‘s leading newspapers.

* Aaj Ka MLA on Aaj Tak: This show, which will be launched soon on Aaj Tak, is based on an on-ground survey across 120 constituencies. Aaj Ka MLA will put the performances of various MLAs from various constituencies under a scanner, and thereby bring the relevant electoral issues to the fore.

According to Aaj Tak CEO G Krishnan, "In a large democracy like India, management of society is a collective responsibility. Aaj Ka MLA provides a snapshot of the collective feeling in a particular constituency thereby gauging the MLAs in terms of promises versus performances. The show will provide a complete picture."

The Aaj Ka MLA survey will be based on extremely scientific methods, and has been conducted by research group ORG-MARG, a channel representative states. The findings of the survey will be supplemented by sound bites from the concerned MLA.

* Kaun Kitne Paani Mein on Zee News: Zee News has cashed its hope on what it calls the ultimate test for a party/leader. The channel has started conducting weekly polls across Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to measure the shift in voting patterns. The channel has very teasingly christened the show Kaun Kitne Paani Mein.

Fine-tuning the system

When news coverage doubles, infrastructure has to improve too to keep pace. A number of news channels have taken that extra step of making additions in the staff, updating technology and fine-tuning the entire system for flawless coverage.

Zee TV has employed about two dozen reporters and fleet of stringers exclusively to cover the elections. According to a Zee News representative, the channel will devote approximately 20 per cent of its telecast time to election programming; and the coverage will only increase as the time goes by.

The channel plans to do at least two pre-poll survey. While Zee News has not roped in any particular celebrity to get more eyeballs, it doesn‘t rule out the idea of inviting celebrities - who have a say on election related social issues - on their shows.

While Sahara Samay, MP and Chhatisgarh, has seen no need to make additions in the infrastructure, head of the channel, Prabhat Dabral says, "We have hired a few researchers and some extra OB vans to bolster our

newsgathering in MP and Chattisgarh." Dabral is confident that his channel is well-equipped with ultra-modern technology for input and output.

Dabral says, "We will have about 60 to 70 per cent of the programming devoted to elections in MP and Chattisgarh channel as the channel is dedicated to these states. There are a couple of such tie ups in the pipeline especially for content sharing with websites." Dabral says his channel is driven by the power of their content. "However, we have hired Yashwant Deshmukh as our psephologist (one who studies political elections) in a show. He is already on air daily in one of our special programmes."

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