DD International: Government’s PR Team?
By: Jhalak Dhandhania
DD National (popularly known as Doordarshan) is one of the oldest and most iconic television channels of India. Since the year 1959, when the channel was first aired, it has catered to all its audiences by expanding the number of TV programmes — ranging from regional and general entertainment to news and sports — all the while promoting the notion of uniting families in the living room to watch the daily Samachar or the cherished evening shows. It aired the most famous and notable serials, ranging from Ramayan and Mahabharat to Hum Log and Malgudi Days, which kept its viewers enraptured for hours. In a nutshell, it was the Netflix of that generation.
Recently, in order to extend its tentacles all around, Prasar Bharti, the public broadcasting agency that comprises Doordarshan has decided to launch DD International with the objective to give voice to “India’s point of view” globally.
Beginning on September 15, 1959 at the All India Radio studio in Delhi, and continuing in 1986 with the debut of its news channel, DD3 Doordarshan provided English and Hindi news, current affairs and information programming to the Indian audience that ended up being high rating triumphs for DD. In the year 2003, it also launched “DD News”, a 24-hour TV terrestrial news channel that continues to provide regular news bulletins in Hindi, English, Sanskrit, and Urdu. Doordarshan also operates an English news station “DD India”, that focuses on current events and developments around the world. Although DD India is already broadcasted in 35 countries where Prasar Bharati has satellite footprints, the public service broadcaster is now making efforts to “internationalise” content through initiatives such as multilingual video content with a view of expanding India's communication scope.
For years, DD India has targeted the local audience and the Indian diaspora, however, it has become pertinent for India to present its viewpoints internationally on contemporary issues of global and domestic importance and DD International has been launched with this purpose. The channel will focus on attracting a global audience by building support for India's strategic initiatives among key stakeholders around the world in the spheres of geopolitics and the global economy. In addition, it will also serve as a "talent hub" for international media professionals. In the midst of widespread criticism from the global media, India somehow seems to have lost its perspective. The DD International forum will also seek to change this narrative by providing India's own version of events and directly telling "the Indian story to a global audience." Prasar Bharti envisions DD International as the authoritative worldwide media source of India, providing trustworthy, comprehensive, and accurate worldwide news coverage.
DD International aims to deliver 24-hour news coverage from its bureaus across the world. The strategy and blueprint will be developed with the assistance of global consultants who are trained to identify locations, establish a roadmap, and develop strategies for 'round-the-clock worldwide service streams.' With the help of bilateral distribution agreements with chosen broadcasters in other nations, Doordarshan seeks to create a worldwide reach. It will identify and prioritise essential languages, as well as construct studios and production facilities both inside and outside of India; further recruiting and engaging media professionals from across the world, in order to generate content for a worldwide audience and create a global content library. It will also conduct webinars, a worldwide award, topped with an annual summit in order to expand its market and brand. Unlike other news channels, the plan will be unique, integrating digital broadcast to obtain greater value from modest expenditures rather than investing substantially in traditional broadcast infrastructure and spending gobs of money for little return. Prasar Bharti has already issued an Expression of Interest (EOI) on May 13, 2021, inviting private players to respond with comments and suggestions. After receiving the feedback and recommendations, an EOI would be released to collect offers from private parties tasked with developing a project study.
Mouthpiece or Autonomous?
Prasar Bharti has always served as a mouthpiece of the ruling party and in this case with the majority of its financing coming from the government, the channel is likely to maintain this legacy in the international world as well. In other words, it will be used as a weapon by the Modi government to prevent opposition views from reaching the public and also to maintain a good image of the Modi Government all around the world. As a result, India’s own story will be shaped by the BJP Government’s point of view and narrative which will ultimately promote the control of the central government over our already censored media.
Why is it necessary for India to have a Global Media presence?
The Indian Government's decision to establish an International News Network paved way when the Indian Government began facing pressure from the international media. However, this record against India and its government is not new. India has been the victim of propaganda campaigns sponsored by powerful individuals, nations, and their deep states targeting to pressurise India in the strategic sphere and destabilise it from inside for a long time.
For instance, India's Covid response has received significant criticism on the international forum, with several newspapers and broadcast platforms issuing stinging critiques of how the coronavirus pandemic erupted in India and left it "starving", due to a lag in vaccination campaigns. This is not the only one; in March of this year, the US-based think tank Freedom House published a study in which it downgraded India's ranking on its freedom index and listed it as a ‘partly free' country. Also, for a long time, the international mass media has peddled fake news about terrorists being killed by the Indian Army in the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and projecting them as victims by broadcasting an emotional and pity-stimulating backstory about their families to justify terrorism. This is how India had been and is being portrayed internationally, and these examples bear testimony as to why India needs a strong global media presence.
DD International will assist in combating such propaganda and false narrative campaigns by presenting India's point of view in favour of India's interests around the world. This will also promote and inspire private players in the Indian media sector to extend their global footprint. This is one of the other reasons why the Modi government enthusiastically welcomes and supports this initiative by Prasar Bharti.
Other International News Channels
We are aware of numerous International News channels such as BBC, DW, France 24, and so on, but except for WION News, none of these channels is owned by India. Prasar Bharti has been organising and preparing to launch DD International on par with these International News Channels for more than six months now. The DD International channel aspires to be a genuinely global platform. Officials claim that it will adopt its format from these news channels. Similar to BBC, CNN, and DW, it too will cover all world affairs. This will allow India to compete on an equal basis with other countries in the media. However, their aim cannot be accomplished until DD International acquires the most fundamental trait of these channels namely, autonomy. To gain public trust and become a genuine public service broadcaster, it must cease to be the government's mouthpiece.
A Futuristic Insight
If all goes as planned and Prasar Bharti is successful in establishing an international channel, India will have conquered a great feat. It would not only serve as a medium to broadcast India's voice worldwide but would also better enlighten the Indian audience on what is going on in the rest of the globe. It would also assist India in countering misleading information and rumours in the international community and gain worldwide support. It would clarify India's positions on important world events, in addition to providing a platform to showcase its culture and tradition, while expanding economic strength. India would take on a significant position in the international media and would be able to present its own viewpoint in a better way. Being a Non-aligned fast-developing nation and the world's largest democracy, India has enormous potential to create and broadcast high-quality news and documentaries. Although it will face intense competition from other international news channels in the early stages, it would soon become a strong contender to these news channels once it overcomes these obstacles.
India has been in dire need of such a broad-based International News Channel for a very long time. Nonetheless, it’s better to be late than never. The launch of this channel would alter India’s image throughout the world forever, only if it captures this opportunity to deliver free and fair news. It is a chance for the Indian media to demonstrate that it is more than just a pawn in the hands of the ruling party.
At last, India would finally have its own version of BBC, allowing it to realise its aim of establishing a universal voice for India.