Thursday, May 23, 2013

China jockeys for radio control

The Ladakh incursion may be recent, but the Middle Kingdom has been making quiet inroads into the Indian mindspace for a long time. After securing a large Indian footprint with powerful cross-border radio broadcasts and a vernacular bonanza via shortwave, China is all set to pump the volume.
The external service of China Radio International (CRI) beams content in Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Tamil and other Indian languages and is believed to be beefing up the portfolio. The station is planning to add Gujarati, Punjabi and Malayalam to its external service menu soon, official sources told FE. CRI is also believed to be planning to set up a local office, subject to government approval, to meet its expansion plans.
Such 'legal' shortwave broadcasts come on top of China-backed radio stations in Nepal beaming programmes in Hindi dialects, reaching up to 100 km across the border into the villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The northern neighbour's experiments in moulding public opinion across the border have
not gone unnoticed. The enhanced signal strength from the Nepal stations has been of particular concern, said a senior official.
"All India Radio (AIR) has been told to beef up its transmission network to counter this threat. Around R400 crore have been sanctioned in this year's Budget to tackle the cross-border communication influx," he said.
Apart from improved cross-border beaming, the external service of All India Radio is also set for an overhaul. Programming and the technical improvements in AIR external services in Ladakh and all along
he Nepal and China border are on cards. Currently, AIR broadcasts its external services in 27 foreign languages via shortwave. However, these attempts may be no match for CRI which broadcasts in over 60 languages, reaching most countries in the world, armed with a half-billion-dollar-strong budget.
Already, cheap Chinese-made multi-functional radio sets have flooded the markets in the villages and towns in northern Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Last week, Cai Jun, deputy director of the Tamil department of CRI based in Beijing told visiting foreign journalists that the station wants the FM radio network in Tamil Nadu to broadcast some of its content in Tamil. CRI Tamil Service also has plans to launch its own FM service in India. However, current FDI policy in FM radio sector caps foreign investmentsfor the upcoming third-phase expansion at 26%.
"The easiest legal way for any foreign radio broadcaster to enter Indian FM space is through content sharing. But the content has to be compelling for both listeners and advertisers," said a senior executive of the association of radio operators in India (AROI), the apex body of private FM broadcasters.
CRI's Tamil service is in India for over three years broadcasting on shortwave across Tamil Nadu, and is planning to launch more Indian language services.
"More languages means more Indian radio professionals may be need to work out of Beijing. With the third-phase of FM radio auctions expected soon, foreign media companies may look to participate through joint ventures, either before or after auctions," said the AROI executive.
* CRI broadcasts in Indian languages, Nepali stations beam in Hindi
* CRI founded in 1941, earlier known as Radio Beijing, Radio Peking
* Global presence in 60+ languages using 50+ shortwave transmitters
* Competes with BBC World Service, Voice of America in US, Europe
* CRI Hindi service since 1959; dedicated Hindi,Tamil websites
* CRI Nepal re-transmits India-centric programmes into Bihar, UP and Ladakh via Nepali FM stations