Party time for channels

Politics and media makes for a heady cocktail. With the launch of Jai Hind TV, Kerala’s 13th Malayalam channel, Kalaignar TV in Tamil Nadu and Kasturi in Karnataka, the turf war for control of news and views is hotting up in the South. The next General Election will be fought as much on the small screen as in the constituencies. A. Saj Mathews from Thiruvanathapuram, Jangveer Singh from Bangalore, Ramesh Kandula from Hyderabad and Arup Chanda from Chennai look at the big business in the four southern states

Plenty in God’s Own Country

Anitha Kumaraswamy, wife of Karnataka Chief Minister H. D. Kumaraswamy, is heading Kasturi channel
Anitha Kumaraswamy, wife of Karnataka Chief Minister H. D. Kumaraswamy, is heading Kasturi channel — Photo by Shailendra Bhojak

Kerala, is perhaps the most happening state in terms of electronic media with a host of vernacular private channels flooding the TV screens of the state’s highly literate and politically enlightened populace. The tv channels in Kerala are a curious mix of purely private ventures, politically or religiously backed ones and those which are purely ecclesiastical in nature vying with each other with an equally amusing feast of news, entertainment and evangelism.

The latest to hit the viewers is the Indian National Congress backed JaiHind TV, almost on the lines of Kairali TV which is obviously supported by the CPM, which is leading Kerala’s ruling coalition. Though belated, the entry of JaiHind TV is certain to add spice to the political warfare on the small screen.

"As a channel which has the support of the Congress party we will of course play the role of a constructive opposition on the small screen as far as our political and social agenda is concerned" says Sunnykutty Abraham, Chief Operating Officer and News Editor of the channel which was ceremonious launched by Congress supreme Sonia Gandhi on August 1 this year.

The advent of Malayalam electronic media dates back to 1985 when Doordarshan launched news bulletins and sops giving the taste of electronic entertainment to the viewers. It took another five years for the first private channel, Asianet to hit the Malayalam small screen. The man behind the channel was noted TV personality Sashi Kumar, who was till then successfully heading PTI-TV.

Sunnykutty Abraham, Chief Operating Officer and News Editor of JaiHind channel
Sunnykutty Abraham, Chief Operating Officer and News Editor of JaiHind channel

The channel started with news bulletins in 1994 marking the dawn of new era in the history of Malayalam media. It can also take the credit of providing the pioneer grooming ground for the first generation TV professionals and technicians in the state. Then came Surya TV, a part of the Chennai-based Sun Network. The channel which hit the small screen as a direct competitor to Asianet could somewhat succeed only in respect of the entertainment and not in news content. Surya lated added a youth entertainment channel namely "Kiran TV".

But it goes to the credit of Indiavision floated by M.K. Muneer, an upcoming leader of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and former minister in the previous UDF ministry for launching Malayalees’ first round-the-clock exclusive news channel. It still has the reputation as the premier news channel enjoying a solid viewership.

The Catholic Church was the next to swing into action with the launch of Jeevan TV which initially had a dominant religious content but eventually turned out to be yet another masala channel with the inevitable commercial content. However it still has the distinction of being the only channel having a regular English news bulletin. A leading businessman, Baby Mathew Somatheeram is the Managing Director of the channel with headquarters in Kochi.

The next major break came when Kairali TV, an outfit having the patronage of CPM, which is heading the powerful ruling Left Democratic Front. For the first time a channel with a political agenda hit the small screen of the enlightened state. The channel roped in Malayalam superstar Mammotty to hold the post of Chairman. It was also the first Malayalam channel floated with contributions from the general public.

Today it has over two lakh share holders. John Brittas, senior journalist and long time the Delhi correspondent of Deshabhimani, the mouth piece of state CPM is the managing director. Of late the channel hit the headlines for a controversial interview Brittas had with an NRI, much to the ire of the faction headed by Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan in the state unit of the CPM. Kairali launched two more channels, namely, People TV for news and WE TV for the youth in 2005 and 2007, respectively.

Then it was the turn of Amritha TV headed by Shyamaprasad, noted film maker and son of BJP leader and former Central minister O Rajagopal. The channel which has the patronage of internationally renowned spiritual leader Mata Amrithanandamayi’s mutt promised value-based entertainment and maximum objectivity in news content. The year 2006 witnessed the launch of Manorama News, promoted by Malayala Manorama, the most powerful media house in Kerala. The channel has a dominant news content which maintains a somewhat distinctiveness in its programmes. Johny Lucose, a senior journalist is the channel’s editorial chief. The 24-hour channel is a joint venture of the Bharath Broadcasting Network (BBN), a group of Kerala businessmen including Gulf-based entrepreneurs, JaiHind Communications (JHC) and the Congress party. KPCC President Ramesh Chennithala heads the co ordination committee of the two outfits while M M Hassan heads Jai Hind TV as CEO and noted journalist Sunnykutty Abraham serves as Chief Operating Officer (COO) and news editor.

According to Chennithala, the channel would not be used for ‘propaganda’ but ‘for family and the nation’. The channel has plans to shortly launch Telugu and Hindi channels, says Sunnykutty.

A few months ago Kerala witnessed the launch of an international channel named as Marine Biz TV promoted by Aries Marine, a leading ship-designing firm, based in Dubai. The channel which claims to be the world’s first Global maritime channel has a rich assortment of programmes related to World maritime industry. The channel is yet to have arrangements with the cable TVoperators of the state. But the programmes are available on Web portal of Marine Biz TV.

Sohan Roy, chief of Aries Marine is at the apex of the channel while Babu Joseph, noted TV journalist who had a long stint with Jeevan TV since its inception is the creative head. The channel has its production bases both in Dubai and Kochi.

The bottomline is that whether general, political, evangelistic or business, each of the channels has an interest in propaganda, whether it is of a political party, corporate house, or a religious cult. The channels are fast emerging as the most preferred media of all interests adding to the influence of the electronic media among the public at large.

The ad revenue on which all these channels, apart from the spiritual channels which follow a different revenue model, amounts to be over one billion according to unofficial estimates.. What actually triggered the mushrooming of these channels is the drastic fall in transponder costs in the last few years. In the place of nearly Rs 8 to 10 crore to launch a channel in the initial days, today it has come down to as less as Rs one crore or even less than that points out, Babu Joseph. According to him, the switchover to digital technology from the Analog format also brought down the cost of production. Gone are the days of heavy cameras and unwieldy editing gadgets, he says.

Added to this is the availability of professional manpower to man any channel. They are ready to migrate from one channel to the other, provided the remuneration is better and prompt. Are corporate interests going to dominate the channels rather than political interests? Sunnykutty Abraham says that it could not be ruled out as it is already happening in the print media. The gap between political interests and corporate interests are fast closing in adds, Babu Joseph.

Media observers admit that the present fluid situation in the state’s electronic media will continue for a few more years. "A consolidation may happen only after five to 10 years", says Babu Joseph.

Till then it is going to be a free for all war fare of all sorts in the Malayalam small screen providing choices of every kind to the viewers of the enlightened state. — A.S.M.