New Delhi: Talk shows busting fake news on coronavirus, special phone-in programmes involving health experts and doctors, and live-streaming of videos on YouTube channels.
This is how India’s public service broadcasters — All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan (DD) — are disbursing authentic information related to COVID-19 or coronavirus at a time when there are multiple sources of unverified information and fake news.
Officials said the government wants to leverage the reach of the AIR and DD to disseminate accurate information on coronavirus.
The AIR and Doordarshan have a reach, which is larger than any private broadcaster. The AIR, particularly, had played an important role in the past too, when India was hit by a Tsunami in 2004 and the Kashmir floods in 2014, among others, officials said.
The AIR operates a total of 420 radio stations, including five community radio stations, and covers 99 per cent of the country’s population. Its external services division broadcasts to more than 108 countries. The AIR runs 17 local services, including FM Gold, FM Rainbow, Vividh Bharati, and 14 other regional language services.
The Doordarshan operates 23 channels and 67 programme-generating facilities across the country as well as the DD Free Dish, which is a free direct-to-home (DTH) television service.
The Prasar Bharati is the umbrella body of the DD and AIR.
Meanwhile, the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry Friday asked private satellite TV channels to play a video shot by actor Amitabh Bachchan on the do’s and don’ts of coronavirus.
The ministry had earlier asked private television and radio channels to publicise travel and health directives issued by the government in the wake of the pandemic.
Dedicated programmes on coronavirus
A senior official from the Prasar Bharati told ThePrint that even before the crisis reached this stage, the DD and AIR have been airing informative content on coronavirus.
“The latest advisories from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are disseminated down to the networks in different languages to create a mass awareness on the crisis,” the official said.
The AIR has also been promoting official helpline numbers and broadcasting information given by doctors and health experts on COVID-19, feedback of recovered patients through phone-ins and dial outs as well as promos and other awareness programmes and advisories of the Health Ministry at regular intervals during the day.
“Aside from dedicated news coverage on the outbreak, special phone-in programmes, such as with the director of AIIMS, are being held. These programmes are receiving huge response from our audience,” another official added.
The official said several informative videos are also being produced and pushed out on various digital platforms.
“Two special playlists are being created aggregating informational videos and news updates on the outbreak and played on loop on the DD News YouTube channel. This is also to ensure that the information is not lost with the volume of news on the subject,” the official added.
DD News YouTube channel has 2.41 million subscribers.
Videos on coronavirus have also been set as default on DD Free Dish channels.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Thursday speech, declaring a voluntary ‘janata curfew’ this Sunday has also been translated into all major Indian languages for broadcast across networks, said the second official.
“Internally, we have been discussing new developments for immediate action. Our digital arm Prasar Bharati News Services (PBNS) have been playing an important role in busting fake news,” the official added.
Similarly, the AIR is playing an important role in reaching out to the Indian population in other countries, especially in those nations affected by the coronavirus, as well as by putting out hyper-local content at the district level on the pandemic.
“With AIR’s low power transmitters operating at the districts, it is reaching out to people with hyper-local content to arm them with information on staying safe during the crisis. The AIR is also reaching out to the Indians in coronavirus-hit countries to tell them not to panic and that India will support them and on options they can exercise in a foreign country during this crisis,” the second official said.
Prasar Bharati writes to global broadcasters
Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati has also written to other global broadcasting bodies, such as Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) and Asia Pacific Institute of Broadcasting and Development, seeking their help in disseminating accurate information.
In a letter addressed to both the bodies, Vempati said the need of the hour for broadcasters is to take a comprehensive approach in newsroom management, and the protection of journalists and field staff, who are prone to exposure in the field of duty.
The letter called for ABU member-broadcasters for regular video conferencing to discuss the issue and stated that DD India and DD News can lead the video conference if needed.