Give us daily bread and beam on DD

Broadcaster brings up a 'small matter'

By Charu Sudan Kasturi
  • Published 12.11.15
Narendra Modi

New Delhi, Nov. 11: Frederick the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte knew that an army marches on its stomach. So do modern-day foot-soldiers called television crew, the Narendra Modi government has been reminded by the national broadcaster.

Doordarshan has written to the external affairs ministry, alerting the foreign office to the unhappiness within staff covering Prime Minister Modi abroad that their most basic need - food - is not at times met by the government in the rush to gather eyeballs back in India.

"I would like to bring one small issue to your attention which you may like to look into and take care during future foreign visits of VVIPs," DD News director-general Veena Jain wrote to the foreign office in October. "The team members who went for the coverage (in Dublin, New York and San Jose) feel there should be some arrangement in the media centre for snacks and food packets."

Jain added in the letter: "As you would appreciate, they work till late evening on many days on such trips and do not get evening meals on returning to (their) hotel in the night. It is requested that food arrangements in media centre or even snacks will help a lot the members who work till late covering these visits."

The letter followed Modi's last overseas trips, when he visited Dublin in Ireland and then New York and San Jose in the US in late September.

Television coverage is no small matter for a government obsessed with "glitch-free" broadcast of the Prime Minister's overseas trips.

Modi will this week be in London, the first leg of his next blitzkrieg of foreign visits that will also take him to Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore, France and Russia after the UK - six countries in about one month and a lot of snacks.

The letter to foreign office spokesperson Vikas Swarup captures the underlying tension in the relationship between the broadcaster and the government over coverage of the Prime Minister's diplomatic initiatives. DD News has found itself criticised for serial goof-ups over the past 18 months.

Officials at the foreign office headquarters plan and map out the specific logistical and technological needs of the public broadcaster - and even private news channels - for the coverage of the Prime Minister's foreign trips, ahead of each visit.

But, officials pointed out, it is the Indian mission in the country visited by the Prime Minister that is responsible for ensuring food and snacks for DD News journalists.

After Jain's letter, missions in the six countries Modi is visiting over the next month will be advised to demonstrate greater sensitivity to DD News staff, the officials said.

The letter represents the latest chapter in an ongoing, back-and-forth tussle between the broadcaster and the government over their roles in ensuring flawless coverage of Modi's diplomatic moves.

In August last year, the information and broadcasting ministry had ticked off DD News after Modi's trip to Nepal. It was the first purely bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the Himalayan nation in 17 years.

But DD News didn't have its cameras in place during the first day of the trip, and had to rely on Nepalese television feed to bring to Indian viewers Modi's address to Nepal's Constituent Assembly.

A month later, a newsreader on the channel lost her job after referring to visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping as "Eleven Jinping" - the text to read out was appearing in capitals on a prompter screen.

The emphasis on avoiding goof-ups is evident in Jain's letter too. "I am happy that with the joint endeavours of MEA and DD News, all coverage of Hon'ble Prime Minister in Dublin, New York and San Jose went glitch-free and to the satisfaction of all concerned," Jain wrote.

DD News remains critical for the government's media management during the Prime Minister's diplomatic initiatives - it allows the administration to project a carefully selected version of what happened, with an emphasis on Modi.

That dependence on the public broadcaster increases during brief visits made by the Prime Minister to nations where the government knows private channels may not send teams - such as the Seychelles in March, or during the half-day trip to Ireland in September. Without the public broadcaster, these visits risk remaining virtually uncovered.