With so many international channels jostling for attention in India, is there really space for another one to even get a foot in the door? The German international public broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, wants to muscle into this crowded space and add its voice to those of CNN, Al Jazeera, and the BBC.
Amrita Cheema, journalist and senior anchor with Deutsche Welle International News in Berlin, said in an interview with the Hoot that the aim was to add to the range of opinions available to Indian viewers. ‘We want to add our view to the plethora of views out there and believe that we will present a more balanced take on international events,’ she said.
The fact of Deutsche Welle broadcasting news in English to India is not new. It launched a 24-hour, English news channel, DW New, last June. It already has millions of viewers in India because it is available on DTH platforms such as DISH TV, Airtel and DD Freedish. It is also available on cable networks including Asianet, Hathways, DEN Networks, InCable Network, Ortel and GTPL.
Yet these platforms do not give the channel enough visibility. This is why it wanted to get onto Tata Sky (DTH) but was reluctant to pay a hefty carriage fee which their rules do not permit. Instead, the German ambassador has now negotiated with Tata Sky to get onto their platform without paying this carriage fee.
‘With this imminent plan to get onto Tata Sky, DW is looking to significantly expand its presence in India. Without being on Tata Sky (DTH), you cannot target the middle and upper middle class in the urban areas,’ said Cheema.
Why now? She says that developments within Europe – the refugee crisis, the global financial crisis, the future of the EU - are arousing considerable interest in the world. ‘The role of Germany within Europe is also changing with calls for the country to play a more assertive role in international policy. DW wants to respond to this need and interest by providing its unique perspective on European and international news,’ she said.
Why India? ‘As the world's largest democracy, a regional super power, one of the world's fastest growing economies, a thriving media scene and a curious population, India is a natural target region for DW,’ she said.
As the political and cultural relationship between India and Germany grows in importance, DW believes it can provide quality programming to millions of people in India who are interested in Germany and a German perspective on international affairs.
In terms of the feed for India, during prime time Asia, DW International will focuson stories relevant to the region, apart from general international news. In particular, there is a one hour news show which has exclusive stories and interviews on issues from South Asia, in particular India.
DW also provides multimedia content online in Hindi and has strong partnerships with broadcasters in India which have led to it o-producing programming like the science show Manthan.
However, the resources being provided for the India-specific programming are pretty meagre so far, certainly as compared with the big fish who have large or reasonably large bureaus in India. Cheema thinks the channel will probably open a bureau here at some point, but for the moment it will rely on its network of freelancers and stringers in the region.
What they generate will not, obviously, be enough. DW will make up the shortfall by sourcing stories from agencies andfollowing them up with, say, interviews with the relevant person or expert from Asia or its own analysis of the event.
Cheema is of Indian origin but has lived and worked in Germany for many years. She is a regular visitor to India and, like many Indian journalists here, is dismayed at the shrill stridency and editorializing of many news channels.
‘India has a vibrant media scene but I am aware that a lot of the content is lost in the cacophony of noise. On DW, we let the news speak for itself. DW is known for its informative, independent and clear news. DW wants to build on this reputation and at the same time provide news and information which is relevant to its target areas,’ she said.
Her interest in the channel is two-fold. As a journalist of Indian origin, she would naturally like the channel she works for to be seen in India. The other reason is her conviction that there is space here for what she calls ‘quiet’ news – serious, uncluttered and with no axe to grind.
No axe at all? Every channel likes to all itself independent but, when push comes to shove, usually in extremis, this façade can collapse as quickly as a soufflé. Witness CNN’s so-called independence during the Gulf War or the BBC during the Iraq invasion or both these channels during the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi of Libya or Al Jazeera’s blatantly biased coverage of the destruction of Syria.
Cheema is aware of these layers of ambiguity beneath the claims of independence and that is precisely why she feels DW has an advantage. All channels say they are independent but DW, she thinks, is perceived to be independent.
‘The first Gulf War really opened people’s eyes to a lot of things. With both the BBC and CNN having embedded journalists, our international viewership really went up. It was a turning point for us,’ she said.
Her Indian background helps her colleagues at DW to understand which stories are worth covering and which are not. Sometimes, they want to cover a story which she knows will be old hat or trite to an Indian audience. Sometimes, she wants to cover a story, such as the recent JNU controversy because she grasps its wider ramifications and they disagree, thinking erroneously that it is just about a bunch of students.
She is confident that DW will find its level in India. ‘People in India are obsessed with politics and domestic affairs but there is, nonetheless, a cross section who want to be informed about international affairs and that’s where we come in,’ she said.
The problem is that the tiny handful of Indians who are interested in international affairs have plenty of other options. Moreover, unlike DW, they are older, more established brands in the public mind. For a lot of Indians, it will be Deutsche Welle who? This, despite the fact that the broadcaster has boasts of 120 million listeners and viewers worldwide.
The channel is convinced, however, that the German perspective on issues is becoming increasingly important and it is this that will differentiate it from other international TV channels.
‘Our other attraction is that DW is a window into German and European culture and lifestyle. As India continues to grow in international importance, demand for these intercultural connections and perspectives will also grow,’ said Cheema.