- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

NEW DELHI In swank new offices across India's capital, helicopters are being mobilized, wardrobes changed, reporters taught how to perform, and beards and mustaches shaved off.
In one of the world's potentially most lucrative media markets, five new 24-hour news channels are joining four other all-news broadcasters this month. The stakes are big, so even more are promised.
For decades, the staid, state-run Doordarshan monopolized the news business. But Zee News, Aaj Tak and the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star News broke the monopoly over the past decade. Now, the media scene is exploding.
New Delhi Television, or NDTV, is starting Hindi and English channels. Aaj Tak, a hugely popular Hindi station, is beaming news in English. There's also a new Star News channel and a channel owned by Sahara TV, a company that plans to start 36 more regional channels.
Still to come: a channel planned by electronics manufacturer Videocon and a business news channel by Zee News.
The arrival of these new players is driven by the market. News channel revenues are growing by 24 percent, according to industry estimates, which could take broadcasting revenue from $1 billion to $2.9 billion by 2007, according to a projection by the consulting firm KPMG.
Viewers in India, a country of more than 1 billion people, have access to about 100 channels in various languages, including 16 round-the-clock channels broadcasting in English, the national language Hindi, or several regional languages. And millions of expatriate South Asians worldwide watch Indian programming on satellite television and the Internet.
Amid this boom, the government is cautious not to let foreign investment color the news. The Cabinet placed a 26 percent cap on foreign investment in channels with satellite uplinks from India.
"TV news has taken over the role completely from print, in a manner that was unimaginable even five or six years ago," said Rajdeep Sardesai, an anchorman and managing editor of New Delhi Television, a leading independent news channel.
"The impact is huge. People who earlier used to wait for newspapers each morning now get the news in their living rooms within minutes of it breaking," said Vinod Kapdi, head of news at Zee News, India's first private news channel.
"That immediacy can change opinions so quickly," said Mr. Kapdi, who anchors Zee News' prime-time news show.
Indians first saw live television news in 1991 when thousands watched CNN on big screens in hotels and clubs. Since then, CNN and the BBC have become extremely popular alongside Indian channels.
But some say that doesn't always make for good journalism.
"Part of the problem of TV journalism in India is that we have tried to compress in five or 10 years what the BBC or others did in 30 to 40 years. The medium has a young, brat-pack look about it," said Mr. Sardesai.
The channels have transformed their technology and look. Hundreds of staffers have been hired. New equipment and satellite vans have been bought, studios revamped, logos changed.
In a first for India, NDTV will use helicopters for news coverage. NDTV also hired composer A.R. Rahman to create a signature tune.
Some channels have turned into finishing schools. Murdoch's Star News ordered reporters and anchors to shave off facial hair. Staffers were put through long grooming sessions.
Top fashion designers and hairstylists are creating new looks for anchors and reporters, some of whom have trained at broadcasting school.
Such emphasis on appearances has been criticized.
"News should be presented by anchors, not by people who look like models or movie actors," said Mr. Kapdi of Zee News.
Some channels bought sophisticated digital technology facilities and U.S. and British experts held weeks of classes.
"The whole transition … was a mammoth task. Some of our staff had never used computers in the newsroom before," said R.S. Chauhan, a vice president at Sahara TV.
All the new technology feeds into viewers' growing demands for speed.
"The obsession with breaking news is one of the dramatic changes. News is more and more like fast food," said Mr. Sardesai of New Delhi Television. "Speed matters, but at times, I fear it gets more attention than the context in which the story takes place."
He added: "We tend to shoot and scoot."


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