New Delhi: State-owned broadcaster Doordarshan is set to establish a new channel, DD International — on the lines of BBC World — which it says will seek to project India’s voice globally on significant domestic and global issues.
This will be Doordarshan’s second channel with a similar objective. DD India, which is Doordarshan’s English news and current affairs channel, has also been fine tuned over the years to target a global audience. DD India was even renamed as DD World for a while before it was changed back to its original name in 2019.
Last week, Doordarshan’s parent body, Prasar Bharati, floated a draft Expression of Interest (EoI) inviting comments from private players. The EOI will be finalised following these comments, and will then be floated to invite bids from the private players, who will be expected to draft a Detailed Project Report on establishing the channel.
The draft EoI comes at a time the Modi government is battling massive bad press over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly from foreign media.
Sources in the broadcaster, however, told ThePrint that rigorous planning and preparations for the channel have been ongoing for the last several months within Prasar Bharati, particularly with respect to distribution.
“There was some internal work going on in this aspect, but there was no prior experience in setting up a global channel,” a source said. “Hence it was decided to hire private consultancy to prepare the DPR and the roadmap for this.”
The EoI document states that the establishment of DD International has been envisaged in view of the strategic objective to build a global presence for Doordarshan and to establish an international voice for India.
“Hence, this EOI is being issued for a Detailed Project Report (DPR) from reputed global consultants with experience in advising international broadcasters/media houses on projects of this nature,” the document states.
The Modi government has for a while been looking to counter some of the criticism it receives abroad.
In March this year, the Centre was upset over a report released by US-based think tank Freedom House that “downgraded” India’s ranking on its freedom index and classified it as a ‘partly free’ country. The government had then issued a rebuttal.
Days later, Sweden’s V-Dem Institute in its report downgraded India from “the world’s largest democracy” to an “electoral autocracy”, citing “muzzling” of the media, and overuse of defamation and sedition laws.
‘A BBC World-like channel’
Sources in Prasar Bharati said the new DD International channel aims to be a truly global channel like BBC World, and ensure that it is not just watched by the Indian diaspora but also by a global audience.
They added that it will differ from DD India, which serves a mix of domestic and global news and is targeted mainly at the Indian diaspora settled outside the country.
Talking to ThePrint, Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati said the EOI is about establishing international presence of DD through bureaus, reporters, time zones and international content aligned to those geographies.
“That is the purpose of EOI to develop the strategy to identify these and prioritise these aspects,” he said.
Vempati said DD International would be globally focused, while DD India will have content for both domestic and international audiences with appropriate content sharing between the two.
“We don’t want to make the mistakes of others where they have heavily invested in traditional broadcast infrastructure and spent tons of money with little value,” he said. “So, the strategy has to be innovative, leveraging digital and broadcast to get more value from reasonable investments.”
Former Prasar Bharati chairman A. Surya Prakash told ThePrint that it is high time that India has a level-playing field with other countries in the sphere of media.
He added that this is only possible when India has an international media arm and bureaus and correspondents in other countries.
“The way BBC, CNN or DW covers India, it is necessary that we also cover the events happening globally,” he said.
During his tenure, Prakash had headed a committee that in its detailed report submitted to the Information & Broadcasting ministry, recommended establishing a digital platform that will project India’s answers to “foreign press bias”.
“I welcome the decision,” Prakash said. “India should have a top class media platform that should not only project India’s voice globally, but should critically look at the rest of the world and inform the Indian audience on what is happening in the rest of the world.”
‘Providing India’s point of view’
The objective of the channel, according to the draft EOI, is primarily to provide India’s point of view globally on contemporary issues of both global and domestic significance and telling the India story to a global audience.
The document states that the channel should be the authoritative global media source on India “through credible, exhaustive and accurate global news service”.
The EOI says the DPR will include plans for sponsored time slots on key networks, platforms and identifying slots for putting content from DD India as well as the plans for identifying distribution platforms in key geographies
Another objective, according to the document, is to create a “mindshare for India’s strategic interventions within key stakeholders across the globe from a geopolitics and economy standpoint”.
This could include different marketing and branding strategies like global awards, annual summits, webinars, engaging celebrated columnists, having global media fellowship and sponsored chairs or research in prominent media institutes.
Another objective, as stated in the EoI document, is that it should be like a “talent hub” for global media professionals, which would involve attracting and engaging media professionals from across the globe, international reporters on freelance basis and engaging global talent as anchors, reporters and having a global workforce.
This would involve setting up bureaus across the globe and identifying locations, planning a roadmap for its implementation, having 24×7 world service streams and prioritising geography specific streams.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)