Indian media battles resources to report war
The costs have been climbing to millions of rupees but TV companies really have no choice as this is the first international war to be televised by Indian news channels.Updated: Mar 29, 2003 17:33 IST
They don't have the resources and equipment to match their Western counterparts, but in a country that has one of the world's most vibrant and free media this is one war they cannot afford to miss.
With little experience but plenty of nervous energy, Indian media teams have plunged into action in the US-led invasion of Iraq, but covering this war is proving to be no less a battle.
About a dozen correspondents from different networks are bringing the Iraq war into Indian living rooms.
"The entire coverage philosophy in the Iraq war is designed to give access to the Western media." — Uday Shankar
Not too many print correspondents have gone, with most newspapers either tying up with American news syndicates or relying on news agencies that have correspondents stationed in the Middle East.
The costs have been climbing to millions of rupees but TV companies really have no choice, this being the first international war to be televised by Indian news channels for an audience that is hungry to know about the latest action from a region of vital strategic and social interest to this country.
"The entire coverage philosophy in the Iraq war is designed to give access to the Western media," said Uday Shankar, chief executive producer of AajTak, a 24-hour Hindi news channel that prides itself to be the quickest.
AajTak has sent two teams to the Gulf, but it is also relying heavily on its arrangements with local and Western networks. It is the only Indian company to have an arrangement with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, the Arab world's most popular television channel.
Shankar said in Kuwait -- where most correspondents have stationed themselves for want of access to the Iraqi battle zone -- Indian journalists have to seek accreditation from the US diplomatic and military authorities.
"It becomes extremely difficult to operate and you are at a serious disadvantage in securing access to the war hotspots if you are not an American or a Canadian or a British scribe," he said.
Networks such as CNN had set aside $ 30 million for the Iraq war coverage and even invested in special armoured vehicles and gears for their correspondents.
For Indians, the prospect becomes doubly expensive due to the exchange rate.
Compared to their Western counterparts, Indian journalists are practically unarmed - and not embedded. They have to be content with most basic war tools like bulletproof jackets, helmets and satellite phones.
Despite the budget constraints, the channels are pouring in millions of rupees - no one is willing to really spell out the amount - but all anxiously hope it will count for some returns in terms of pushing up viewership.
Zee television, which has a reputation for being where the action is, has not spared expenses though the organisation is not exactly in the pink of financial health.
"We have stationed a person in Kuwait and three more in the Middle East," says Laxmi Goel, director Zee News group.
Star News launches on April 1 with war - a dream launch for any channel - and more than a couple of correspondents have camped in the Gulf region.
NDTV, the only private channel that airs hourly English news bulletins now, has also sent two correspondents. It also has a content tie-up with Fox News.
For all three channels, the first week of war has been somewhat disappointing. The access has been controlled, the footage difficult to get or very diffused, and the interest back home has been flagging after the initial burst.
"We can never hope to match BBC or CNN who have 24-hour war coverage. All we have is a special segment, but there is so much else happening in the country... cricket, Kashmir, politics," pointed out a Zee TV official.
State-owned broadcaster Doordarshan has, instead of investing in insuring its correspondents and sending them to the Gulf, outsourced its coverage to a private company, Saeed Naqvi's Third Eye, at the rate of Rs 500,000 per day.
According to the director-general of Doordarshan, S Y Quraishi, Third Eye has a team in Kuwait, and sends feeds via satellite.
It has the only Indian correspondent stationed in Baghdad. The 30-minute bulletin has very little pretensions, no gloss but plenty of content - from the Indian perspective.
Unfortunately, the programme suffers from lack of promotional advertising.
There are over 3.5 million Indians working in the Gulf, 70 percent of its oil imports come from that region - Iraq was at one time the second largest oil supplier - and with the world's second largest Muslim population of 140 million vitally interested in what happens there, the media knows it has a captive audience.
First Published: Mar 29, 2003 17:28 IST