CBI raided four premises belonging to Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy, both NDTV promoters. And this led to a media blitzkrieg with many from the fraternity supporting them and others who felt nobody is immune to the laws of the land. People took to Twitter to voice their opinions and the issue has since then only escalated.
In 1995, NDTV aired India’s first-ever private news broadcast, with Prannoy Roy’s announcement – ‘It’s eight o’clock and this is The News Tonight coming to you live’ – marking a paradigm shift in news media in the country. It then went on to become an independent broadcaster in 2003. But what is the origin story of NDTV, a channel lauded for its sensitive coverage of various controversies, and now in the middle of one itself. The excerpt is from More News is Good News, reproduced for your reading. Read on to know more about the channel, its creators, and the people who made it what it is.
This book celebrates the story of NDTV, and through its experience the story of Indian television and India’s media revolution. In over twenty-five years of NDTV, we have seen the electronic media landscape in India change from one government-owned channel, Doordarshan, to, at last count, over 400 news channels, all uncontrolled and uncensored. But our story, which began more than twenty-five years ago, is the story of a constant struggle by India’s electronic media against government control. Perhaps some of this history can be understood through the life and times of NDTV.
When my wife Radhika, who was a print journalist, decided to start a private television news organization, she realized that it was impossible to cover any hard news on India. This was 1988, when the only national TV channel was the terrestrial broadcaster, Doordarshan. I joined Radhika and we began to work together to create New Delhi Television – NDTV.
The first challenge we faced as journalists, which many journalists in Third World countries face even today, was that we were not allowed to report news on or about our own country. Although the Indian press was free, television news, because of its greater reach, was a government monopoly. When we were granted permission to cover only international news, the warning was reiterated: ‘Nothing on India’. So we launched a weekly programme called The World This Week. Fortunately, in comparison with the bland news on Doordarshan, which, without visuals, was more like radio than TV, it was not difficult to look good. It was after all the newsiest decade in television history: the Berlin Wall came down; the USSR disintegrated; the scenes of protest and revolution from Tiananmen Square had to be covered. With The World This Week , the seed of private news television was sown. But even then, every single story we did had to be vetted and cleared by government officials. So we struck a deal and told the government officials that, yes, we would send them our scripts for all our stories, but if they changed one word of any script, we would drop the entire story, no matter how important, and replace it with a completely different story. It worked.
The first tectonic shift in India’s broadcasting policy came in 1995. We at NDTV had been pressing the government to allow us to report on India news. One evening, the risk-taking, genuinely enlightened head of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting told us he had decided to give us a chance and allotted us a nightly half-hour slot for national news. He added that the government wouldn’t pay us a penny for the costs of production. We started our rounds of private companies with the plea: ‘Please fund the first-ever private news programme in India … it’s the beginning of a new era.’ The response was terrific. Mr Ratan Tata was the first to say yes and five others followed and we were ready to go with three years’ funding and editorial independence assured. On 5 February 1995, we aired India’s first-ever private news broadcast. Then came a blunder on the first night of our news broadcast of The News Tonight. I was anchoring and, like any other young anchor, decided to show off. As we went on air, I glanced at my watch and said, ‘It’s eight o’clock and this is The News Tonight coming to you live.’ Someone in the PM’s office heard the word ‘live’ and immediately phoned the information and broadcasting ministry and asked them to take us off air, or at least stop private news from being live. ‘Live’ was a four-letter word that, freely translated, meant ‘danger’. But frankly, nightly news that was not live might as well be dead news. So we decided to race against time.
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