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India deserves its own formal voice in the world of news
The changing landscape of the news media in India has mirrored the changing nature of politics, writes one of India's best-known television journalists. being the most capital intensive, has benefited from low-cost adaptions like mobile phone-based filming equipment and back-pack sized broadband pushed uplink units. As broadcasting becomes more inexpensive, and more and more people consume content on smartphones and tablets, the cost of producing and distributing video content becomes more and more affordable. Several organisations and journalists (including this columnist) have understood that you no longer need gigantic resources to be a broadcaster. A couple of high-end phones with good cameras and microphones, a decent video editor and a strong social media distribution network means that you may spend very little and yet have your work reach millions of people. The broadcast news industry is now waiting for its next big push. And the one thing that India is still missing is its own version of BBC, CNN, CCTV, TRT World or Al-Jazeera. The US, UK, China and Middle East all have global networks that report news from their geo-strategic perspective on the world stage. India is first in a list of fastest growing economies in the world for the coming decade. It could grow at 7.9 per cent every year, well ahead of China and America, according to a Harvard University report. The Centre for International Development at Harvard said countries that have diversified their economies, like India and Vietnam, will do better than others. The economic and strategic rise of India as the world's largest democracy makes the fact that the country does not have a domestically-owned international network even more ironic.
Successive governments have toyed with the idea. During the Congress years a proposal for such a channel never got the requisite clearances from the Prime Minister's Office. During the BJP years, some private initiatives have been launched in this direction. But given the nature of the Indian market and the enormous funds that would be needed to fund such a venture the best outcome would be a private-public partnership. A fully-government owned enterprise, such as the present public broadcaster DoorDarshan, would never have the reputation of being editorially independent. India has not been able to replicate the BBC model, where a mandatory license fee protects the BEEB from the tyranny of market forces; but institutional freedom insulates its editorial integrity from political interference. In India, in the absence of any such model or protections, the best way forward is to build a global news broadcaster that is fiercely independent and whose editorial management is managed by professionals. These professionals should not be appointed by government, because any change in government can see these individuals getting replaced. A first step could be to create an over-arching, bi-partisan, self-regulating body comprising eminent citizens such as a board of writers, lawyers and public intellectuals. Currently, there are different self-regulation bodies for print news and television news and none at all for digital. In a multi-media age these silos make little sense. A cohesive body that covers all genres, and that can be elected or appointed by industry leaders, makes imminent sense. This body would then be perfectly placed to determine key leaders and personnel for a global network. Either way, India deserves its own formal voice in the world arena. For too long the Global North has dominated how we see news - and consequently how information is controlled and disseminated. It's time for India to play in the big league and reverse these inequalities. It's time for another set of IITs - India International Networks. Barkha Dutt is an author, columnist, television journalist and broadcaster.