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29 September, 2020


An event in the history of Malayalam television

Sashi Kumar

Tomorrow, September 30, marks the 25th anniversary of  Malayalam television channel Asianet’s first news telecast.

That, incidentally, was also the first live newscast by any private Indian channel. 

Promoted by Sashi Kumar, former chief of Press Trust of India’s TV division, Asianet began telecasts in August 1993. It was the first private Indian channel to go on air.

Sashi Kumar had conceived Asianet satellite operations as a PTI project. But the owners of PTI, who are all newspaper owners, rejected it. He then quit PTI and promoted it, not in the original form, but as a Malayalam satellite channel project.  

The government did not permit uplinking from India at that time. Sashi Kumar got over the problem with his uncle and co-promoter, Reji Menon, a Moscow-based businessman, making arrangements with an outfit at Subic Bay in the Philippines to uplink the programmes and with a Russian agency to pick up up the signals and make them available in India.

At least two private satellite channels, Zee in Hindi and Sun in Tamil, began telecast of news bulletins before Asianet did. In the absence of uplink facility, they recorded the bulletin ahead of the telecast time and  transmitted it through VSNL to the uplink centre.

Sashi Kumar was of the view that a news bulletin must be live. So he decided to send Asianet’s news readers to Subic Bay. The bulletins prepared by the desk, based at Thiruvananthapuram, were telexed to the studio at Subic Bay.

After a brief inaugural ceremony at a hotel in Thiruvananthapuram, the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, P.M. Saeed, switched on a television a set and the face of A. Pramod, who was at the Subic Bay studio, appeared on the screen.

 Left: Screen image of A. Promod reading Asianet's first news bulletin on September 30,1995. Right: A recent picture of Promod, now Coordimnating Editor of Manorama News. ( Images Courtsey The News Minute)

The 25 years that have passed since then have seen the birth of many more channels and the death of some.

Reji Menon ousted Sashi Kumar and took control of Asianet only to sell it to  Rajiv Chandrasesskhar, a Bangaluru-based businessman turned politician. He in turn sold to Murdoch’s Star group all but the News Division.  He is now a BJP MP and its official spokesman.

Sashi Kumar went on to establish the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai.

A. Pramod, now better known as Pramod Raman, is Coordinating Editor of Manorama News.

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