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‘Newsplosion’ time on small screen

New Delhi, Feb. 14: In a south Delhi five-star hotel recently, newly-recruited male journalists with an about-to-be launched news channel were told at a workshop that they must shave off their moustaches and beards. The audience, most of them on the right side of 30, were told that the clean-shaven are more camera-friendly.

A lifestyle consultancy firm was roped in to counsel the correspondents and anchorpersons on “telly etiquette”; there were demonstrations for the women on how to wear a saree and how to carry themselves in western attire.

In the headquarters of another news television company, preparing to launch an English channel, journalists are told to report from the spot for even the smallest of events and go ‘live’ as often as possible, even for a minor road accident in any of the metros — there will be no dearth of OB (outdoor broadcast) vans, they are assured.

In another month, the “newsplosion” on television takes off. Get ready for all the news, all the time, on all channels, even if it is not news.

As broadcasters already in the business of news and wannabe-news broadcasters groom their staff and train their personnel, the government, too, is putting in place a content cop. Union minister for information and broadcasting Ravi Shankar Prasad has sent out no less than three warnings in less than a fortnight of taking over from Sushma Swaraj that coverage will have to be restrained — if the broadcasters do not do it themselves, he will do it for them.

A look at what is in store from news broadcasters within weeks from now:

n Prannoy Roy’s New Delhi Television (NDTV) will launch its English and Hindi news channels immediately after its contract with STAR terminates on March 31.

The names of Roy’s channels are not yet known. Speculation ranges from NDTV World and NDTV Duniya to names without the “NDTV” prefix

n Aaj Tak, the widely successful Hindi news channel from TV Today of the Living Media Group, is set to begin its English news channel in all likelihood from February 28 with a live telecast of the Union budget and its analysis

n STAR, after the NDTV contract runs out, will have its own news machine, trained by fraternal Murdoch outfit Fox News and groomed by Birla Corporates. Correspondents for STAR are being trained to handle the camera alongside presentation. STAR News will be Hindi-only

n Subrata Roy’s Sahara India is relaunching its news channel. Also, Sahara has announced that it wants to start as many as 31 news channels in regional languages. The flagship channel in Hindi — likely to be called Sahara Samay — will be supplemented with another channel in English.

“We have had one explosion in television news when we allowed channels to uplink,” a senior information and broadcasting ministry official points out. “There is another coming soon.” If the first was brought about by the government policy, the second is mostly the result of a shake-up in the television industry with old alliances breaking down and new ones being forged.

Doordarshan, which enjoys the widest television viewership because it is the only terrestrial network, is set to refurbish its news coverage, too, with Prasar Bharati now being headed by journalist M.V. Kamath and the minister asking the brass to get more aggressive in projecting development activity.

The “newsplosion” takes place in a year when the government has just put in place the Cabinet to take it to the elections. Prasad’s remarks that “live coverage” of sensitive events, such as communal riots (as in Gujarat) and militant attacks (as in Kashmir and in Akshardham) have to be restrained have not been made on the fly.

Hovering in the background is the Broadcast Regulatory Authority Bill, drafted during Swaraj’s tenure and likely to be tabled in Parliament in the budget session, that will have an immediate bearing on content. Even before that, Prasad is nudging the industry to police itself.

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