Booming: Television News Channels in India

News programmes have suddenly become hot property and are vying for attention with other popular programmes telecast in different channels. All major television broadcasters are including at least one news channel to their bouquet. The biggest headache for launching a satellite channel is programme software for round the clock. In this juncture, newsgathering is a major task for the 24-hour news channels. To cater this task, the emerging electronic channels have always made an attempt to cover all the incidents irrespective of position, location and time. These channels not only revolutionized the concept of news on Indian television but also changed the news formats. Before 1990s, Doordarshan had monopolized newscast on Indian television and also turned the news programs into a dowdy exercise. Now the private channels made the news an essential commodity like food, cloth and shelter. The strong point of all today’s news bulletins is their topicality, objectivity, glossy editing and high-quality visuals. News has traveled a long way from the DD era. From Local events to International events, breaking news to news analysis, television soap to page3 news, every happening comes under purview of news. In this article, we have covered some significant changes in news broadcasting in India before and after the Gulf War.

Indian Television – Flash Back

Television in India is undergoing significant changes in the current liberalized environment. To understand these changes, one needs to have some brief idea of the road covered by the television channels so far. The journey started as an experimental basis with a financial grant from UNESCO in 15th September 1959. The makeshift studio at Akashvani Bhavan in New Delhi was chosen for location of the experiment. The experiment started with one-hour program, broadcast twice a week, on community health, citizen rights, education and traffic sense etc. As far as news is concerned, it was launched exactly six years after the inception of television broadcasting. Daily one-hour program with a news bulletin was served to the Indian viewers. But one major drawback of television was that you could not enjoy the original colour of the objects because of black and white transmission. First multi-color programme was the Prime Minister’s address to the nation from Red Fort in Delhi on India’s 35th Independence Day. In the same day, DD National channel was launched. The aim of launching the National channel is nurturing national integration, and inculcating a sense of pride in Indians. Indian viewers also enjoyed the colored version of the Asian Games hosted by New Delhi in their drawing room. The coverage of major events and different occasions lend a big hand behind the infiltration of television signals to the nook and corners of the subcontinent. Indian Government had taken all possible steps to expand the television broadcasting demographically and geographically. In 1983 television signals were available to just 28% of the population, this had doubled by the end of 1985 and by 1990 over 90% of the population had access to television signals. In 1984, DD Metro channel was added to provide an exclusive entertainment for the urban viewers. In the beginning, this channel was confined to metropolitan cities.
As a public broadcaster, Doordarshan presented the news in naturalized manner. All controversial issues were pushed under the carpet. The ruling government had a strong hold on the television broadcasting. Doordarshan news bulletins were unable to provide the international news to the national viewers. Objectivity had been the first casualty as news was invariably slanted to suit the party in power. The news was liberated from the confines of the DD newsroom and gained in objectivity and credibility when New Delhi Television (NDTV) produced ‘The World This Week’ in 1988. Everyone was waiting for the Friday night to watch ‘The World This Week’. This was the only India-based programme, which looked out at the rest of the world. The World This Week was the best current affairs programme on the international scenario and carried good stuff of news, which the regular DD news was failed to carry out. This program is ranked as one of the country’s finest and most popular television shows. In 1989, NDTV produces India’s first live televised coverage of the country’s general elections. The critical and commercial success of the coverage sets a new standard for Indian television. After the Gulf War the media panorama has changed forever.

Golf War – The Catalyst

Post-1990 satellite television in India has become transnational in nature. It coincided with the entry of multinational companies in the Indian markets under the Government policy of privatization. International satellite television was introduced in India by CNN through its coverage of the Gulf War in 1991. In August 1991, Richard Li launched Star Plus, the first satellite channel beamed the signal to Indian subcontinent. Subhash Chandra’s Zee TV appeared in October 1992. It is India’s first privately owned Hindi channel to cater the interest of Indian viewers. This ignition followed by Sony and a little later by domestic channels such as Eenadu, Asianet and Sun TV. Entertainment programs had begun to occupy center stage in the organization’s programming strategies and advertising had come to be main source of funding. Doordarshan’s earlier mandate to aid in the process of social and economic development had clearly been diluted. Doordarshan had faced a stiff competition in news and public affairs programming with international channels like BBC and CNN. Doordarshan planned to sell some slots for news programme under sponsored category. In February 1995, NDTV becomes the country’s first private producer of the national news ‘News Tonight’, which aired on the country’s government-owned Doordarshan set a new landmark for Indian television because of its on-the-spot reporting with pertinent visuals. In the same year, TV Today Network occupied a 20 minutes slot in DD Metro channel and aired a Hindi and current affairs programme ‘Aaj Tak’. This programme became popular for its comprehensive coverage and unique style presentation by Late S. P. Singh. Still we remembered the sign-up message “Ye Thi Khabar Aaj Tak, Intizar. Kijiye Kal Tak”. Large number of viewers across India had been watching Aaj Tak as a daily habit because of its innovative style of news presentation. Besides that Nalini Singh’s five-minute fast paced, condensed daily news capsule Ankhon Dekhi, TV Today Network’s Business Aaj Tak and Newstrack was aired on the Metro channel of Doordarshan. This is the period when satellite channels concentrated on entertainment programmes for their respective channels. Doordarshan was still ruled the most wanted area ‘news’.

Major Players

Doordarshan’s monopoly was broken in 1992, when private television channels infiltrated into the Indian boundaries and entertain the viewers as much as possible. In the beginning of 1990s, the private channels offered only entertainment programmes. The entertainment programs include family drama, comedy serials, children programmes, cartoons, movies, talk shows, recipe shows, musical concerts, non-fiction programmes etc. Private entertainment channels added some infortainment programmes to their Fixed Point Charts (FPC). Keeping the demand of infotainment programmes in mind, the media houses started to produce news magazines, entertainment magazines and news programmes for different channels. India’s premier business and consumer news broadcaster and a leading media content provider, Television Eighteen India Limited (TV18) started India’s first ever entertainment magazine ‘The India Show’ on Star Plus in 1993. This emerging media powerhouse provided prime time television content to almost all leading satellite channels in India including BBC, Star Plus, Sony Entertainment Television, Zee, MTV and Discovery. After The India Show, TV18 produced a weekly business news program India Business Report for BBC World. Indian viewers had very limited options (like public service broadcaster Doordarshan, BBC and CNN) for watching the television news. For televised news, the viewers had to watch Dordarshan and some international news channels like BBC or CNN. In this race to provide more news, more information, Zee Television jumped into the battlefield by launching the news channel Zee News in 1995. This News and current affairs channel revolutionized the way news was delivered to the viewers. Since its inception Zee News has endeavoured to be the fastest to provide news, working towards a single goal of Sabse Pahle (Always First). The other round-the-clock news channel, the Murdoch-owned Star TV beamed its exclusively 24-hour news channels, Star News in 1998. Star made a contract of five year with Prannoy Roy-owned NDTV (New Delhi Television Company) to provide news content for this news channel.
The untiring exhaustive coverage of the Kargil war between India and Pakistan gained more publicity and attracted more viewers towards the electronic channel. This televised conflict also sets a news benchmark for wartime journalism. During the Kargil war, common citizens witnessed how their brave Jawans fought despite in hostile conditions and watched the war front live by the exclusively news channels, Star-TV and Zee-News. The live coverage of the battlefield helped to create a euphoria of patriotism among the Indian masses, which later facilitated into collecting huge funds for the welfare of the families of Kargil martyrs. Every news programme draws the attention of large number of viewers but Kargil war attracts private broadcasters to invest more money in the broadcasting business by launching a news channel. In November 1999, TV18 entered into a 49:51 joint venture with CNBC Asia to launch CNBC India. TV18 is the sole program provider to CNBC India, and produces 12 hours of local content per day on this 24-hour satellite channel.

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