The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cash in kitty, DD on headhunt

New Delhi, Oct. 31: The Election Commission has given the launch of Doordarshan’s news channel a conditional clearance and the public broadcaster has immediately advertised a war chest to “poach” journalists from competitors.

The chief executive officer of Doordarshan’s parent Prasar Bharati, K.S. Sarma, said today he has a kitty of Rs 20 crore till March 2004 to headhunt journalists for a news channel that has ambitions of being India’s answer to the BBC. Prasar Bharati also announced a 24-hour news channel on All India Radio. The service, on the shortwave, will take off from April 2, 2004.

Sarma said Prasar Bharati has appointed a headhunting agency to sound out journalists. He claimed “well-known” faces would feature regularly on DD News.

Among the first to join is Deepak Chaurasia of TV Today’s Hindi channel, Aaj Tak, who will be DD News’ consulting editor. Sarma said Nalini Singh would do a half-hour programme five days a week. Rajat Sharma would have a daily news analysis slot and Rajiv Mehrotra would anchor a chat show.

Newspaper editors have been sounded out to feature regularly on DD News’ panel discussions. A senior journalist who has joined DD News from a private channel is reportedly being paid Rs 1.5 lakh a month, way above the norm in journalism, print or television.

Prasar Bharati will appoint about 200 correspondents all over the country. Sarma said Doordarshan wanted to dispense with the services of news agencies Press Trust of India and United News of India. Prasar Bharati’s expenditure annually on the services of news agencies was about Rs 11 crore a year. The public broadcaster has correspondents from the Indian Information Service in five foreign stations. All new appointments would be contractual.

Sarma said the cabinet had cleared a Rs 54-crore grant for DD News in the current year and for the next year. In 2004-2005, DD News expects to recoup 50 per cent of that amount and break even in the following year.

Doordarshan is hiring 10 outdoor broadcast vans and satellite news-gathering kits from next month — the channel is to be launched from November 3.

This is the second time Doordarshan is launching a 24-hour news channel and this time it is making a more determined bid.

DD News was shut down on January 26 last year after poor quality of coverage and questions over its commissioned programmes proved embarrassing for the government. But private channels still laugh off DD’s claim to be competitive. For example, competitors Zee News and STAR News don’t really grudge that the government has mandated that DD News is a “must carry” channel for cable operators.

Doordarshan rarely broke stories and even after major stories had broken, did not follow-up adequately. Its record of professionalism in news coverage would embarrass any one else in the business. But Prasar Bharati is defensive because it begs to be excused for being a public broadcaster.

“I was told for example that Doordarshan took eight hours to break the news to the world that Indira Gandhi was killed, that even Rajiv Gandhi had to learn about his mother’s death from the BBC,” Prasar Bharati chairman and columnist M.V. Kamath said.

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