CRI Tamil - with a network of listeners’ clubs in T.N. - in talks with Chennai’s FM stations for launch of a daily two-hour broadcast

The state-run China Radio International’s Tamil radio station, the most popular of its more than 60 international channels, marked its 49th anniversary here on Sunday announcing plans to expand its presence in India by launching broadcasts on local FM radio stations.

CRI Tamil, which broadcasts on shortwave in Tamil Nadu where it has an extensive network of listeners’ clubs run by 25,000 registered listeners, is in talks with FM radio stations in Chennai to launch a daily two-hour broadcast, Zhao Jiang, CRI Tamil’s director, told The Hindu.

CRI Tamil launched an FM broadcast on Colombo’s FM 102 station in 2010, a move that has enabled it to expand its listeners’ base in Sri Lanka this past year. The channel now broadcasts for four hours in Sri Lanka every day, at 1.30 p.m. and 7.30 p.m.

Quiet celebration

CRI Tamil held a quiet celebration to mark its anniversary here on Sunday, inviting members of Beijing’s Tamil community, mostly from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. The channel has a grander plan to mark its 50th anniversary this year, and will invite listeners from India to visit China. CRI, one of Beijing’s four main state-run media outlets along with the Xinhua news agency, China Central Television (CCTV) and the English-language China Daily newspaper, is now at the centre of an $8 billion expansion, part of China’s plans to boost its “soft power” overseas.

At CRI’s 70th anniversary celebrations last year, the channel was called upon by the Communist Party’s propaganda chief and Polit Bureau member Li Changchun to “create favourable international opinions about China and constantly boost its soft power.” As China’s only world service radio station, he said CRI would be developed into “a world first-rate broadcaster with increasing global influence.”

Founded in 1941

CRI was founded in 1941, before the People’s Republic was established, at the Communists’ revolutionary base in Yanan. It broadcasts in 61 languages today, with 3,000 hours of daily programming.

Much of the “soft power” expansion drive of the four main state-run media outlets has been directed, so far, at the West — Xinhua’s opening of a new office at Times Square in New York and the launch of a 24-hour English news-channel to emulate the success of Al Jazeera have made global headlines.

CCTV's English channel has opened a U.S. office and has begun to broadcast exclusive programming tailored for American audiences, while China Daily has launched editions across Europe, where it is available for free in many cities.

Prominence in Asia

CRI is playing a prominent role in Asia, where its broadcasts have enjoyed wide following for decades, particularly in South and Southeast Asia. CRI Tamil has listeners in Tamil Nadu, the rest of India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and also in Europe and the United States.

Last year, CRI’s Urdu channel launched FM broadcasts in Pakistan, shortly after CRI Tamil’s FM debut in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil station, launched in 1963, is widely popular for its programmes on Chinese culture and language. Its content generally refrains from engaging with overtly political issues, and devotes much of its attention to the arts.

Staff growth

The station has grown over the past 49 years. Starting with a small seven-member part-time Chinese staff, it functions today with 19 full-time Chinese staff — all fluent in Tamil and mostly graduates of the Communications University of China, which initiated a Tamil programme primarily to cater to CRI’s needs. The station also employs two Indian staff.

Speaking in fluent Tamil, the station’s director, Ms. Zhao, who prefers to go by the name Kalaimagal, said the station received 5,00,000 letters from its fans in India and elsewhere every year year — more than any other CRI station and accounting for one-sixth of all correspondence received by the 61 channels. She said the channel was interested in launching FM broadcasts in India to reach out better to its listeners.

The channel is currently available on shortwave, broadcasting every day at 7.30 a.m. and 7.30 p.m., and also broadcasts online through its website.