In Andhra, there is no politics without media ownership
The Andhra CM is flagging off one more TV channel - one funded by over 200,000 ordinary people. Politics, it seems, is incomplete with media ownership
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy will unveil the logo of a new television channel in Hyderabad - 10TV - today. What's new, you may ask, in a state that is already home to more than 15 Telugu news channels, the highest in any state?
10TV's USP is that it is owned by some two lakh people in Andhra Pradesh. Developed on a unique ownership model, Rs 60 crore has been mobilised over the last two months with the aam aadmi and aam aurat of the state backing this media initiative. Buying shares at Rs 10 a share, ordinary people have thus been made into indirect media proprietors. In a couple of districts, entire villages have bought shares and teachers and bank and insurance employees have been the most enthusiastic about the venture. Interestingly, some 300 daily labourers in a town in coastal Andhra Pradesh have bought into the idea of this "People's TV channel".
How does it work? The shareholders have elected a board of directors which, in turn, has appointed a news team. The managing director is, in fact, an insurance sector employee and the Chairman is K Nageshwar, a Professor of Journalism and an Independent MLC in the Andhra Pradesh Legislative council.
"Press Commissions have in the past suggested delinking big business from media ownership. This is the alternate model that can work," says Nageshwar. "We are not saying it will be an arty kind of news channel. It will be a fiercely independent mainstream channel where the attempt will be to broadcast news highlighting the people's point of view, in keeping with our ownership pattern.''
It won't be easy. The channel, which intends to go on the air in January, is banking on what it calls "the power of the collective" where the two lakh shareholders will spread the word about the channel to their friends and relatives. The idea is to use them to market the channel and as citizen journalists. The viewership, the management team hopes, will be good enough to attract ads.
But in a state where political ownership of the electronic media is rampant, it is difficult not to see a red hand in 10TV. The involvement of several Leftist unions, that helped spread the word among employees to mobilise funds has led many to believe that 10TV is a CPM-backed channel, a charge the management denies.
While he unveils the logo, Kiran Kumar Reddy would do well to take a close look at the business model that 10TV has, since he, through a friend, is now 'controlling' a television channel in the state. Though the chief minister denies 'owning' a TV channel, sources say those who picked up a 51 percent stake in I-News have his backing. The content since 1 December, when the deal became effective, has been distinctly pro-Kiran Kumar and pro-Congress, with dollops of praise showered on Sonia Gandhi.
A few weeks ago, two Congress leaders close to Kiran Reddy had bought a little-known channel ATV in the hope that the CM will back the venture. But with a more popular I-News in its bag, ATV may at best play a supporting role.
What makes the media scene in Andhra Pradesh interesting is that Kiran Reddy''s Transport Minister, Botsa Satyanarayana, is also his rival in the media business. Last quarter, Satyanarayana's family picked up a controlling stake in Zee 24 Ghantalu and it helps that the Congress PCC chief also dominates the cable business in his backyard in north coastal Andhra Pradesh.
Lok Sabha MP G Vivek and his brother, former Labour Minister G Vinod, run V6, which means the Congress has three media channels to market its products to the people as elections draw near. However, the risk is that each of the channels will work more earnestly for their bosses and less for the party.
For the last three years, Congress leaders have fretted and fumed over rival Jagan Mohan Reddy's Sakshi TV belting out news with an anti-Congress slant. In fact, after the drubbing it received in the byelections in June, a ministerial committee had suggested that the Congress party have its own TV channel in Andhra Pradesh.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti has its T-News while CPI plans to launch TV99 next year. The only party without a TV channel of its own is Telugu Desam and its boss Chandrababu Naidu, once the darling of the media, has to depend on two TV channels that are friendly to him. Studio N, which Naidu's son Lokesh ran, is no longer in his control.
Every politician finds the idea of owning a TV channel seductive because it helps him broadcast his version of the news and also rubbish his rivals on air. But while they think they can sway the undecided voter to their side, the fact remains that in this era of the remote, the viewer has no channel loyalty. So if he wants to get K Chandrasekhar Rao's point of view, he will watch T-News and Sakshi TV if he wants to get Jagan's version.
In this environment of politically owned and politically biased channels in Andhra Pradesh, the viewer is certainly not king. The owner is.
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"I have no such thoughts," the Chief Minister told reporters during an informal chat on the occasion of New Year's Day at his camp office this afternoon, putting the strong rumours on the issue to rest.
AICC General Secretary Digvijaya Singh, who is in-charge of Andhra Pradesh, also insisted that there was no threat from Reddy to quit the party.