India approves new niche nets

B'cast minister eyeing radio privatization

NEW DELHI — Indian Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj is greenlighting four niche channels as part of its plans to expand the state-backed Doordashan network.

The niche services are sports, chlidren’s, culture, and education. The initiative for which has already been taken by the autonomous Prasar Bharati, the other channels include a children’s channel, a culture channel and an education channel.

“We want to expand the scope of DD (Doordashan) beyond entertainment,” Swaraj said Tuesday. “It’s time we did a bit of narrowcasting, too, rather than limit ourselves to broadcasting.”

Asked whether she had set a time frame for the starting of the channels, the minister said, “I intend to start the process soon, which will include a series of meetings with the Prasar Bharati Party.”

The kids channel, she said, has been on her agenda for some time now. “The programming opportunities are tremendous, given that there is so much talent available in the country today,” she said, making special mention of the National School of Drama repertoire on kids, and theater personality Barry John. “At least, we won’t have to suffer Hindi-dubbed versions of foreign kids shows.” The culture channel, to be called Lok Sanskriti and Krishi Channel, will cater to the teeming rural population. “The rural masses are hungry for programs after their heart. The concept of community TV sets has caught on,” Swaraj pointed out. There is enough manpower and infrastructural resource for starting the channels, she said, pointing out that there are plenty of spare low- and high-power transmitters, and excess staff.

“The problem is that staff is badly deployed. All we need is better deployment.”

The minister also said she planned to privatize radio operations in phases.

“While a second FM radio channel is coming up, I also plan to privatize AM radio,” she said.

According to her, “in the first phase, educational institutions such as IIT or Vishwa Bharati University in Shantiniketan will be allowed to make use of a new AM radio channel dedicated to educational broadcasts. It will be a whole new experience altogether.” In the second phase, Swaraj said, “we will start an entertainment-based radio channel.

Asked when Indian companies would finally start uplinking from Indian soil, Swaraj said: “It could be as early as August 20. As the nodal ministry, the I&B ministry has been dealing with specific requests and we have sought an NoC from the home ministry for all the eight broadcasting companies that have applied.” The minister added that at a recent meeting with Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) an annual uplinking fee of Rs 6 lakh (US $ 15000) was finalised, which these channels will have to pay VSNL. Ms Swaraj also said the self-regulatory mechanism to beadopted by satellite channels vis-a-vis liquor advertising would come into effect soon. “Three meetings have already been held between representatives of satellite channels and I&B officials.

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