What will be the new feathers in the cap of TV9?
TV9 Chennai (Tamil) and TV9 New Delhi (Hindi) would be coming soon. Our TV9 Mumbai, a 24x7 Hindi news channel, is doing well. Our plans to get a toehold in the Hindi heartland and then to emerge as a national player in the news business are on the verge of realisation. We would like to be the definite leaders in the television industry apart from being the largest and number one television network in India. We would also like to reach out to more people through our awareness programmes on health and education as we think these are important subjects for underdeveloped regions of any state.
Does the intensive corporate social responsibility programme of TV9 have anything to do with this goal?
Of course it does. We have been taking up various social causes voluntarily from the very beginning, that is, since the inception of TV9. The corporate social responsibility work by various TV9 channels is going on in India and through Media next network in Africa too. When floods caused heavy damage in Andhra, a whopping Rs 12 crore was collected by TV9.
For constructing pucca houses for the homeless, we entered into an MoU with the Andhra Pradesh State Housing Corporation Ltd (APSHCL) to build 750 houses for the flood victims at Panchalingala village of Kurnool district.
TV9 started a mass awareness programme about congenital heart disease. The ‘Saving Little Hearts Campaign’ was able to raise funds for 3000 operations across the state. The channel’s campaign against factional leaders was a success as they were ousted in the elections, and we were successful in creating awareness among the people about factionalism. We are also making a crusade against the chronic problem of flourosis in Nalgonda district. TV9 ran a series of programmes as part of our campaign to fight against flourosis. The channel’s stories highlighted the plight of victims and we succeeded in stirring up a public agitation. The the list goes on. In a nutshell, TV9 is playing its role where the government fails.
What about the latest operations abroad?
We have started laying down cables in Uganda for broadcasting the channels. We have dual plans. One is to be a service provider as carrier of channels. Our channels would also be among the other hundred channels being telecast; secondly we are also planning to launch channels in the local language.
What is your comment on the recent paid news controversy in the media?
Most of the channels do not have a specific stance on their functioning. For that matter, most of the media houses do not have any altruistic motto like TV9 has. ‘News for a better society’ has been our slogan and every member of our group sticks to it. At the end of the day, I do not review what has been done by my team members; rather, I ask them what has been done for the society on that day. If this social responsibility is inculcated and when the channel is striving hard for the betterment of the society, the concept of ‘paid news’ does not come in the picture at all.
What is your opinion on cross media ownership? Should it be allowed or regulated in India?
I am for cross media ownership as it helps ending the monopoly. Take for example the Sun network in Tamil Nadu. The Sun’s media business is spread into three major categories of carrier (medium), content (production) and distribution (platform). Distribution is the carriage services that deliver content, including cable networks, direct-to-home (DTH) and Internet service providers. Since the distribution is completely controlled by the Sun, which is owned by the DMK, no news critical of DMK policies could be telecast in Tamil Nadu. Thus, Sun network’s cross media ownership led to monopoly and abject control on editorial content. If cross media ownership of some other players is allowed, it must be an answer to the domination of the Sun. Usually, that kind of monopoly is always bad for the growth of a healthy media.
Your efforts to enter into Tamil domains have been delayed. Do you attribute the setback to the ‘Sun effect’?
Yes, I do. But the things have changed after DMK’s ouster from power. The AIADMK government has cleared the decks. TV9 will soon step in there.
Do you think media ownership by politicians is bad?
You were talking about the paid news and cross media ownerships. In fact, they pose no threat to media, or the harm they do to the media is negligible. But political investment shall sound the death knell to the media as a whole. Let me elaborate. Direct investment from politicians into the media business is hitting the ethics of unbiased journalism. Whether it is the money of Jagan Mohan Reddy, KCR, the Gali brothers, or the DMK’s Maran brothers, it is corrupting the media. They are controlling the content so as to safeguard their own interests. Moreover, they are attacking the other channels. If channels like the TV9 are functioning impartially, the channels owned by politicians are indulging into mud-slinging practices.
Laws in some European countries curtail the direct involvement of politicians in the media business. Would you advocate similar laws here?
Theoretical restrictions are there, but there are no concrete and specific restrictions. It is said that no channel should propagate any political party. It is a general guideline.
But when the investment is directly coming from the pocket of a politician, the vague guidelines just become a mockery.
Is there any movement from TV9 against this practice?
We have raised the issue on different forums, including National Association for Broadcasters (NAB). They say that they are working out on a solution. As I said it is more dangerous than paid news. The politician is launching his own shop and passing dictums of his own. The channel heaps praises on him or his party in the name of news.
Does TV9 stick to its slogan ‘Local first, National tomorrow’?
Though our steps are from local to global, we still believe in our slogan. I have faith in decentralisation, which is the guiding principle of a democratic set-up. Sitting in Delhi, one cannot talk about or decide the fate of people living in Hyderabad or Vijayawada. Things should be decentralised. India is a vast country with different languages and cultures. Media pundits sitting in Delhi have failed to understand the needs and aspirations of this diversified and unique population.
In older days, the entire country was covered by DD Hindi programmes. The process could not meet the local aspirations. Today, TV9 speaks seven languages and reflects their culture and aspirations.
Is Indian media, particularly the visual media, facing any threats?
Besides the political investment I was referring to, the unscientific TAM ratings pose serious threat to the visual media. In my experience, when we serve some mediocre content, we get good rankings. If some intellectual stuff is telecast, we are lagging behind in TAM ratings. I do not find any fault with the kind of sampling the TAM does.
In regular practice, substantial number of sample individuals representing all the Class-I towns (towns with population more than 100,000) are polled every week for their viewership habits and the rankings are decided. But owing to monetary reasons, monitoring meters are put in the houses of very lower income groups since they are satisfied with the meagre amount against the placement of meters. So, to go cheaper, TAM agencies keep the meters in the houses of lower income groups.
So, I should invariably think what my watchman’s wife is viewing what my plumber is watching and what my electrician’s family is interested in. When they are at the viewers, I should only give some mediocre stuff to appease my targeted section for TAM ratings. This must be addressed with utmost priority.
So, are the priorities changing accordingly?
Seldom. One way, or the other, TV9 is going against the tide most of the times. Even though almost all the channels are airing astrology-related programmes, TV9 has been against such superstitious programmes, at the cost of the viewership ratings and also advertisement revenue.
The conflicts between the marketing and editorial functions are growing. What is your opinion on editorial independence?
It may be a repetition to refer to our basic motto — News for a better society. So, there is absolutely no conflict between marketing and editorial functions. Absolute independence of editorial content prevails in TV9 channels.