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A vision to make news in Tamil Nadu socially responsible and devoid of sensationalism.

The Tamil news channel which wants to change the way you watch TV news
Friday, September 23, 2016 - 15:52

By 2013, V Subramanian of the VV Group, a successful Tamil Nadu-based business conglomerate, had decided that the natural next step for them was media. That year, FICCI reported that media was a Rs. 13,000 crore-business in South India. Although a bulk of it was from entertainment, the news market in Tamil was bursting out.

There was also a gap left behind by politically biased news channels of Tamil Nadu. A couple of channels had tried to fill the void, and succeeded, but to Subramanian, the market was far from saturated and raring for other options. The TV news narrative in the state, if not set by the government, was being set by a few individuals, mostly older men. There was a democratization of discourse needed, a youthful addition to the mix.

In 2014 October, News 7 Tamil went on air with a big bang – AR Rahman performed at a mega launch ceremony in September and composed their trademark jingle. In the months leading up to the launch, VV group had brought together the best people and technology from across the world to launch the channel.

But Subramanian was also aware that he had to keep an arm’s length from the editorial. “I want the team to be neutral and not be influenced by anything. They have full freedom,” says Subramanian.

Socially responsible news

“In my first meeting, I was given three clear ideas which we had to work with – Tamil Diaspora, Youth and Social Responsibility,” says Thillai N, Executive Editor and head of news at News 7 Tamil. The channel’s tag line, in line with their vision, is ‘Poruppum Podunalanamum’, roughly translating to ‘with responsibility and for social good’.

V Subramanian

And it’s not just a tag line, they take their ethics seriously. For instance, they do not air any astrology programs, which have become regular in many regional news channels in India. “We also keep away from religion as a policy, you won’t see shows or ads to do with godmen on our channel,” adds Thillai, “And we don’t go for personal attacks – whether brands or individual.”

When News 7 started, Tamil TV news was heading towards the style of their English and Hindi counterparts. Channel debates were increasingly becoming noisy, and the pressure for TRPs and to put up a debate show every evening meant taking up topics which did not really require to be debated. “So we tried to pick up sensible topics when there was no major stories. Social issues like education policy have been taken up for prime time, with in-depth analysis,” says Thillai, but adds that TRPs show that people don’t always watch that. “They don’t want to be given any ‘advice’, viewership has changed. Debates have to be a spectacle.”

They were perhaps the first Tamil news channel in the state to start airing full-length documentaries on different social issues. They also ran a series of month-long programs, under the brand ‘Mayyam’. From alcohol and drug abuse to traffic and health, subjects were taken up and discussed at length over a month.

At the time of the deluge and floods in Chennai in December 2015, some of the TV channels were unable to air news because their offices were flooded. In such a situation of calamity, News 7 kept up round-the-clock update of the flood situation and launched an initiative “Anbu Palam” to support and deliver the relief work and supplies to the flood affected areas. With this initiative, News 7 enrolled more than 3000 volunteers and delivered food, blankets, medicines and other supplies to over 40,000 people in flood affected areas.

During the Chennai Swathi murder case, they stood clear from discussing her private life on their shows. Any transgressions by reporters were swiftly dealt with. “There were channels which prodded her friends, we did not want to do that,” Thillai says.

But it wasn’t just their ideals which were refreshing, it was also their technology.

The best TV tech one can get

Ask him about their technology, and Subramanian rattles off a long list of television tech they got in from the West.

“Our LED video wall is possibly the biggest in India at 40X5 square feet. We got it specially made from the best manufacturers in the world. We have both indoor and outdoor steady cams, underwater cams, 3 drone cameras, Go-Pro and Osmo cameras too. We bought all of this,” he says, and many of them came handy during their Chennai floods coverage.

They also wanted to change the very design of the TV screen. “We wanted a minimalist design, took suggestions from Russia TV and France 24. There was just a single ticker. The triangle was our standard shape, not rectangle as usual,” he adds.

Informing people with creativity

One considerable value-addition that News7 Tamil brought to the market was its spread of features. It calls itself an ‘infotainment’ channel. Enter their features head - Shanmugam.

Shanmugam has created diverse news features programming, from food and health to language and law.

Every day at 4:30pm, Dr Selva Shanmugam talks about the kind of healthy diet that all of us need on the show ‘Unave Amirtham’. “We talk and we cook,” Shanmugam says, in his heavy voice.

There are other shows, like ‘Manmigu Needi Arasargal’ on law, ‘Thadayam’ on crime and forensics and ‘Sutralam Suvaikalam’ on food and travel. There is also a regular youth show, catering to the needs of the young.

His favorite segment in one of the shows is the one which gives away his love for Tamil. In the ‘Varthaiyum Varalarum’ segment of their show ‘Arivu Kulandu’, the teach Tamil to students, but in a ‘sugar-coated’ way, that students don’t even know they are learning. Having fun with the exciting etymologies of some words, the show has become hit among youngsters.

Subramanian says that he has plans to grow bigger, and has grand future plans, “But my vision is to make news in Tamil Nadu socially responsible and devoid of sensationalism.”

 

This is a TNM Marquee marketing initiative in association with NEWS7 TAMIL. Content by News 7 Tamil.