How Janam TV Is Making Waves In Malayalam Television News Space
With its coverage of ‘love jihad’, corruption and Sabarimala issue, Janam TV has established itself in a largely-left dominated news ecosystem of Kerala.
Never had the visual media space in Kerala heard the voice of the right wing or the non-left, until Janam TV’s foray into the world of news and its subsequent rise in the Malayalam news ecosystem.
The channel, says chief coordinator Renjith Arampil, was started to “uphold the principles of sanatan dharma and to project an alternative voice among the so-called ‘secular’ media in Kerala”. Janam TV, registered in the Thrissur district, has studios in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. Owned by Janam Multimedia Limited, the company is chaired by national award winning Malayalam film director, Priyadarshan. According to Arampil, Janam TV, which is open about its political leanings, was denied permission to commence operations twice during the tenure of the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance government. The channel got approval to start operations soon after the Narendra Modi government came to power. It was inaugurated by the Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar, and the channel ID was switched on by the Information and Broadcasting Minister Col (retd) Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. It went on air with Malayalam matinee idol Mohanlal reading news in Sanskrit.
‘Janam’, which means people, is supported by 5,000 shareholders from across the world and was started with an investment of Rs 100 crore, Arampil said. The channel has performed remarkably well without the support of any heavyweight investor or political patronage. According to Arampil, initially it grew solely on publicity, by word of mouth, without any advertisements.
According to the channel sources, Janam TV gained traction after it started meticulously following up on the High Court judgement in the Hadiya case, where the court annulled the marriage of Hadiya (formerly Akhila Ashokan) who had converted to Islam to marry Shafin Jehan. The channel tried to expose the angle of ‘love jihad’ in the case and explored the possible link of the case to Popular Front of India (PFI). A meticulous and consistent follow-up of the case, says Arampil, catapulted the channel to the fourth position in viewership ratings.
Following this, Janam TV used Right to Information to report on corruption, nepotism and abuse of power in the ruling Left Democratic Front government, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI-M. Viewers’ patronage continued during the channel’s coverage of the devastating floods in Kerala during July-August, this year.
Janam TV, which was initially vying for space with bottom-rung channels, has now gained more prominence among news watchers in Kerala, thanks to its coverage of the Sabarimala issue. According to data from Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) of India, the channel now holds the second position among Malayalam news channels, overtaking the likes of well-established channels such as Mathrubhumi News and Manorama News.
Analysing the data published by BARC, suggests that the viewership for Janam TV in the standard regional news target group in the forty-first week of 2018 was 7,438. It multiplied manifold to touch 30,950 in the forty-sixth week (10 November 2018 to 16 November 2018).
“Our truthful and sincere reportage on Sabarimala issue, ‘#bhaktarkkoppam’ (meaning solidarity with devotees) campaign are the sole reasons behind the feat,” Arampil told this writer.
The other reason for the unprecedented growth in the channel’s viewership can be attributed to the change in the attitude of viewers in Kerala in the past few years. Protests against Supreme Court’s judgement on Sabarimala issue, allowing the entry of women of reproductive age into the shrine, had generated distress in the state, which in turn induced an interest in Janam TV’s reportage. All this go on to suggest that the people of the state have started accepting non-Left content providers than earlier thought.
However, it appears that the growth in the channel’s viewership has not gone down well with the ruling party. There have been concerted efforts by cyber activists of CPI-M to “manipulate scrolls and propagating them on social media”, says Arampil.
The channel sources claim that their reporters were the only ones who continued to camp at Sabarimala foothills since the apex court’s verdict. Video clips showing the devotees at Sabarimala carrying reporters of Janam TV on their shoulders have appeared on social media. Such a gesture was far different from the reaction the channel got in its initial days when it struggled to enter the mainstream media space.
The rise of Janam TV in a predominantly left-ruling space in a relatively short time has created a model for the other outlets to follow and succeed in a largely hostile ecosystem. If Janam TV manages to sustain the traction it has received, it may soon find itself among those who influence narratives.
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