It's tough for a privately-run news channel from India to survive in the already saturated global markets.
Does Arnab Goswami’s upcoming news channel, Republic, have the potential to succeed in global markets? While foreign policy experts remain optimistic about an international news channel from India, the former Times Now anchor faces tough questions on saturated markets and editorial autonomy.
“There is some scope for optimism with respect to a global news channel from India given the size of the Indian diaspora, the country’s growing weight as a political, economic and cultural power and its history as a democracy,” said Oliver Boyd-Barrett, professor emeritus at the Bowling Green State University in the US. “However, there are considerable obstacles to making it a profitable operation,” added Boyd-Barrett.
< Internationally, over the past decade there has been a growing trend of big state-run media from emerging economies such as China, Russia and Venezuela reaching out to the foreign audience in multiple countries. Many of these mammoth media networks such as China Global Television Network (CGTN, formerly called CCTV 9) and RT News (formerly Russia TV) exist primarily to extend the public diplomacy aim of their governments.
The traditional wisdom was that an Indian global news channel would have an edge in coveted international markets like the US than the big media from countries such as China and Russia, given that our private media were perceived in foreign shores as free and independent.
However, as the Republic promotes itself as a global channel the big question is: How would a privately-run news channel from India survive in saturated international markets that already have established players such as CGTN, RT News, Telesur and the Al Jazeera - not to mention global behemoths like the CNN and BBC.
As media markets became crowded with newer players and multiple digital news platforms over the past decade, even reputed networks like the BBC struggled to make profits.
“It is impossible to survive in world markets without state support because an international venture needs massive investment and profits are difficult,” said Sanjaya Baru, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s media adviser from 2004 to 2008 and author of the book, The Accidental Prime Minister.
Russia’s RT News, which runs Spanish and Arabic services along with RT America and RT UK networks, for instance, is supported by president Putin’s government. France 24, which currently offers services in English, French and Arabic, too is funded by the government.
In recent past, just before Goswami announced Republic, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India too needs a “world-class” media to propagate its views like other big countries.
But the financial resources necessary for a global news channel still remain sky-high by Indian standards. For instance, in 2009 the Chinese government invested 8.7 billion USD to step up the global expansion of its state-run media outlets such as the Xinhua News Agency and the Global Times newspaper that has English and Chinese editions.
An Indian news channel, a late-comer in the international arena, would have to match the state-of-the-art infrastructure and expertise of established players such as Al Jazeera, funded by the Emir of Qatar, and Beijing’s CGTN.
The state-run Chinese network offers a bouquet of channels including the flagship CGTN English, CGTN America, services in French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian as well as exclusive documentary channels that flaunt superior production value.
In the past Singh’s UPA government reportedly expressed an interest in a global channel with Doordarshan but the project did not work out due to the paucity of funds. There were also talks at the time of NDTV entering into a partnership with the government for an international news channel but the plan didn’t see the light of the day.
India’s private news groups such as Zee TV, which are more used to the domestic market than international ones, also remain lacking in the training and expertise needed to operate in global media centres.
Zee’s global channel, World Is One News (WION), which promised to beam in 34 countries at the time of its launch last year, struggled to hire international staff and so far failed to create a buzz.
Whereas, global networks like CGTN works with reporting teams in 70 countries and has centres in Beijing, Washington DC and Nairobi.
To carve out a niche in crowded global markets what remains essential is a refreshing editorial perspective and autonomy, say experts.
While the tightly-controlled Chinese state-run news media are often subject to criticism for presenting Beijing’s position on key foreign policy issues, in recent times, news outlets such as the CGTN attempted to report local news in a straight forward fashion in many African markets, moving away from overt state propaganda.
However, the upcoming Republic has already raised eyebrows at home by drawing Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Rajya Sabha MP and a member of the Kerala unit of the NDA, as one of its key investors.
Interestingly, despite their state-funding many state-run big media networks like Venezuela’s Telesur manage to offer a different take of world events.
During its launch in 2005, Telesur made a difference with its refreshing reportage of Latin America and critical stand on the Bush administration on Iraq War and Palestine.
Telesur, inspired by the late Hugo Chavez’s political vision, is currently funded by the governments of Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay and a few other Latin American countries.
Such regional cooperation, however, remains unthinkable in the Indian context. In a public address at a global media forum, Goswami said that India needs an international news channel to advocate for diplomatic isolation of Pakistan.
But calling for the boycott of India’s neighbour is just not enough. What is the unique political vision that would make Republic stand out before mainstream viewers in big foreign markets? So far Goswami has no answer.
Suruchi Mazumdar has a doctorate in communication studies from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and is currently an assistant professor with OP Jindal Global University in India.