What attracts TV news channels to social causes?

By Ankit Bhatnagar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing
Last updated : June 27, 2012
Why have TV news channels increasingly started taking up social causes? Is it to break the clutter, to further the corporate social responsibility or just to differentiate on-air content? afaqs! explores.

TV news channels have been an important medium to propagate social issues. Whether it is the Aircel-NDTV Save the Tiger campaign, Kent-Zee News Saaf Pani Swastha Bharat initiative or Idea-CNN-IBN Citizen Journalists campaign, TV news channels have been throwing their weight behind one or the other social cause for quite some time now.


Recently, in an attempt to educate the masses about the importance of clean water and the need to conserve it, Zee News launched the second edition of its Saaf Pani Swastha Bharat initiative that reached over 50 million people through TV, radio, print, outdoor, social media and other tactical promotional tools.

Launched in May, the campaign aimed to not only sensitise people about the shortage of pure water faced globally, but also to educate them on ways to save it through educational TVCs, tips to save water and informative programming.

"As a part of our corporate social responsibility, we have been working towards saving the tiger for quite some time now. We partnered with a TV news channel to reach out to a larger number of people. It's a movement now," says Shalini Sethi, head, corporate communications, Aircel.

Commenting on the need for TV news channels to take up social issues, media veterans express diverse but some poignant views. CVL Srinivas, chairman, Starcom MediaVest Group, says, "Content on a news channel can be categorised as entertainment, informational and news-related content. These programmes give the TV channel an opportunity to broaden the viewership and therefore, the support base for the cause."

Anamika Mehta, chief operating officer, Lodestar, says, "By sensing a gap and taking up an opportunity, TV news channels have taken the responsibility now. For them to make a difference to a social issue, sustained campaign with small measures on a regular basis are required. What comes out of discussing a social issue is what really matters. There has to be a measurable call to action. By not just driving consciousness but also by measuring the impact achieved, the channel can really do justice."

Doing something similar to facilitate direct interaction with people and encourage action, Zee News conducted multi-city ground events comprising discussions, oath ceremony, signature campaigns and rallies across the routes that river Ganga takes before joining the Bay of Bengal.

Speaking about the campaign, Rohit Kumar, marketing head, Zee News, says, "Both water crisis and water-borne diseases continue to pose a serious threat. For the second year, we tried spreading awareness about these threats and not only awakened people's thought to it, but also generated public response by inspiring them to act."

Zee Campaign

The Zee News initiative, Saaf Pani Swastha Bharat, had the longest river rafting expedition, that was undertaken to draw people's attention to the plight of the sacred river Ganga and the need to conserve it. Covering more than 2,510 kms, the two-month long expedition commenced from Gomukh - the origin of the river and culminated at Gangasagar. The effort was acknowledged and appreciated by multiple quarters, including the Union Environment and Forests minister Jayanti Natrajan, Vijay Bahuguna, chief minister, Uttarakhand and the director general of ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police).

According to Amit Nandi, vice-president and head, premium bikes, Bajaj Auto, "A cleanliness drive like a clean Ganga campaign makes all the more sense today, when most of our water bodies are nothing more than nullahs or sewage drains. At the end of the day, viewers do understand that these initiatives have as much of commercial prospect as they have the social element, but still somebody took the very much needed first step in the right direction."

P Balakrishnan, chief operating officer, Allied Media praised TV channels wholeheartedly when he said, "Media plays an important role in nation building. These issues are all real and the efforts taken are not unwarranted or cosmetic. The evolved audience understands that there is an element of marketing, but they also do respect the initiatives and that respect just doesn't take away the positivity from the effort."

Commenting on the raging debate of TV news channels taking up social causes, Vinod Venkataraman, marketing manager, IBM, India and Southeast Asia, says, "I don't see any harm in a TV channel taking up a social cause. I'd rather be more interested in watching and discussing issues that matter to me in day-to-day life. Quality education, world class infrastructure, water usage; its accessibility and cleanliness are the issues that take most of my energy and resources."

Pratik Seal, head, marketing, Micromax Mobiles echoes the sentiment when he says, "TV news channels taking up social issues make for a good platform from the perspective of TV being a mass medium. It creates higher awareness in whatever it takes up on prime time. This, for me, is a fantastic proposition. For all the TV channels, taking up social causes like cleaning Ganga have more social intent as opposed to just the commercial angle. The thing to keep in mind is that the treatment of the programme shouldn't be crassly commercial and should discuss the issue genuinely."

Some of the earlier campaigns that Zee News undertook were: My Earth My Duty, which was the biggest ever campaign on climate change that won an entry into the Limca Book of Records, 2011. United Nations also appreciated the endeavour and selected it to represent India at the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit in Brazil in June, 2012.

Under the campaign, a record 75 lakh saplings were planted on a single day. Another unique initiative of Zee News was an effort to spread awareness on 'Power of One Vote'. The mass campaign was successfully conducted every year during 2008-12 to educate people about their constitutional rights, and motivated them to cast votes and participate in the democratic process.

Aptly summing up the reasons for a TV channel taking up social causes, Vikram Sakhuja, chief executive officer (South Asia), GroupM, says, "A TV channel creates unmatched awareness about a cause. The visual treatment of a TV property dedicated to a social cause shouldn't be like that of an advertiser-funded programme. If the treatment is fine and integrity and sincerity of the channel comes through, then I think it's a good idea and a win-win for all the stakeholders involved."

First Published : June 27, 2012
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