Ethiraj may not be one of those heavily promoted news channel
faces but is an established name in the news media space
nonetheless. The former Mumbai head of the corporate bureau of The
Economic Times and now CNBC - TV 18 corporate editor, Govindraj
Ethiraj comes across as objective and down to earth.
someone who initially wanted to report on art, stumbled upon business,
and found his unexplored passion, business journalism, it comes
as no susprise that even after 14 years in the business, he is still
passionate about his job.
Sonali Krishna did some hard talking with Ethiraj
and came away with quite a few interesting insights on the state
of the news business today. Excerpts:
Was broadcast just something you stumbled upon or was it that
you were always quite focused on broadcast journalism? Why?
I wanted to be an arts journalist, as in report on art.
such was the milieu in my college and my time. The stress was all
on liberal arts and writing and reporting about art and being an
art critic and so on.
at that time I met someone at Business India. And this was even
as I was passing out of college. I realised that this was what I
wanted to do. So I joined Business India as a trainee.
we tread the path that contributed in making you the Mumbai Bureau
Chief, CNBC India?
in The Economic Times, running the corporate bureau in Mumbai and
Raghav Bahl got in touch with me. CNBC then had just set up a skeleton
outfit in Delhi, and they were looking for someone to set up the
Mumbai news operation. What really attracted me at that time was
the entrepreneurial nature of the job and the organisation.
I don't really think that there is a path as such. (Laughs) I think
the problem is that most journalists do not last too long. It's
to do with the kind of salaries the profession pays. It's to do
with the kind of opportunities or the lack of them.
Rightly tuned commercial programming is what will finally
hold your bottom line."
do you manage the two dedicated weekly shows 'Managing India' and
anchoring 'Cutting Edge'?
maintain that responsibility is on the news side, which is essentially
the overall CNBC news operation. We do about 13 to 15 news bulletins
in a day, including three of our main news bulletins in the night.
So that takes up most of my time. So, that's my key job.
called the editor for the Indian Business Hour. Also, I work
closely with commercial and try to create new stuff. Commercial
is a very important aspect for growth. Rightly tuned commercial
programming is what will finally hold your bottom line. Rightly
tuned implies programming that will have all the editorial integrity
and editorial quality, yet is commercially feasible. So a lot of
our programming is driven around that. I am not talking about news.
News runs on its own.
believe Managing India, is mostly shot outside Mumbai.
have to. But that's the way I made it. Managing India was
being handled by a colleague who went on to look at stocks full
time. I took it outside Mumbai to introduce some excitement into
the show. Maybe being a print journalist was an advantage in this.
of shows we do is just people sitting in studios. I wondered if
people have really seen the insides of factories, plants and the
real environment the CEO works out of. So, two and a half years
ago, we began by doing a walk about in a factory plant. I think
Cummins was our first. I think I can take credit for the walking
format, before these were seen on other channels.
subjects are you really passionate about?
Auto and technology are two areas. I also do an Auto show. I drive
a lot of technology related news on CNBC.
often than not, broadcast is about banging in the news first, being
first. How do you work in such a scenario?
we want to be first and the best as well. But, CNBC has an interesting
proposition. Also CNBC works at different levels. We have a ticker,
the CNCBC wire which really flashes the news first.
when we flash news on the CNBC wire, we are really competing with
the wire service. Then we go on to, let's say the point where you
get visuals. And then the first byte comes in and then you have
the full story, followed by the discussion following the story.
you know the business news space is not as physically competitive
as the general news space. So, our focus is business and business
who are you competing with in a breaking news situation?
As business news, no one really. But as a wire, we are competing
with a Reuters and a Bloomberg. Life is all about positioning. That
gives you your competitive platform or edge.
also say that I am competing with an Economic Times, because
I want to be the preeminent business brand. It's incidental that
I am in television. So, when I talk to people I say I am inviting
you to join CNBC, which is the world's largest business news brand.
would also say that I am competing with an Economic Times,
because I want to be the preeminent business brand. Its incidental
that I am in television."
news breaking situations where the news is relevant to you (business),
wouldn't other mainline news channels also qualify as competition
or do you always get breaking news on business first?
think so, but it's futile to claim that. They might break something
ahead of us. I am not denying that, because they also have people
who work hard.
is a lot of work going on in broadcast, yet people consider print
sacrosanct. Why is it so?
I think broadcast has reached a certain point and has developed
certain core competencies. That of breaking news first. That of
taking you visually and making you feel the action as it happens
look at 9/11. The day it happened, you saw the twin towers crumbling,
the horrific images, the mourning, all on television worldwide.
But, the most interesting, penetrating and incisive journalism that
followed the downing of the twin towers established the link between
the attackers and where they came from. How they got together, how
they built their alibis, the kind of deception they created in the
community they were staying in, came from print.
you then agree that broadcast journalism is superficial in a certain
think it's superficial. Yes, print is powerful. You can't deny that
and the written word can make a lot of difference. But, I urge you
to look at the international examples. If a CNN and a BBC have developed
to a certain point, I don't think you can call them superficial.
The fact that a New York Times and a Washington Post are powerful
today and they can shake governments doesn't make them more powerful
reason I disagree with this statement is because print in order
to maintain its preeminent position also has to work for it.
the elections that we just witnessed saw every newspaper tie up
with a mainline news channel for exit poll reporting.
but that happens worldwide. Because print gives you the ability
to look at things more closely and at your disposal.
you can't attribute credibility just because it's a newspaper unless
that particular newspaper has worked to gain that respect. I think
that's what's important. I think in India we confuse things automatically.
You have to give credit to some news channels, because they have
done some sterling work in the last five or six years in mainline
I would argue that there are some newspapers that have not worked
as hard. So, those guys are not in a position to say that TV is
superficial without having worked equally hard to redefine themselves,
to reinvent their product.
back to the kind of post 9/11 reporting that was seen in print in
terms of the quality and in depth reportage was something else.
A guy going and spending number of days and weeks in Hamburg, meeting
people, trying to understand every family member of the Al Quaida
operative, trying to get into his skin and creating a total life
sketch of the guy.
you have to do that. You can't sit in New York and keep reporting
the normal stuff and say that those guys are superficial.
often than not, journalists do take shelter under the term corrigendum
or correction for goof-ups of the unresearched kind. What do you
have to say?
think people do it deliberately. I wouldn't blame the journalists;
I would blame the system for not being strong enough. We all go
through it and we all learn from mistakes. I've made my mistakes,
and have been defended by my seniors in my time. So, what I can
say is that the system needs to be stronger, the filter needs to
be stronger. It's an organization issue.
the nature of the business is such that you want to be first and
ahead of other people.
take on the exploding media scene in India what with the myriad
news channels that have launched this year.
there are some aspects of the Indian television markets that are
unexplored. For instance, let's say the way regional news channels
have sprung up or the way city based channels have sprung up. There
is a market for all of that.
said that, there are waves of consolidation in the industry as well.
You've seen channels slow down and you have seen new ones come in.
So I think it will grow at one level and it will also keep contracting
at another level as some niches get closed. For example you can't
have six channels in Marathi. Similarly, in mainline news channels,
you can have only so many channels.
you agree with the statement that 'television networks in India
a medium that is six years old, you cannot call it mature. On the
other hand, if you see what the medium has achieved, it is truly
amazing. I don't think anywhere else in the world has a medium grown
so rapidly and so widely and so effectively as it has grown in India.
to the stock markets, which is what you follow most closely, don't
you think that post-polls the bourses were in a state of hysterical
overreaction? What do you attribute this to?
I told you, broadcast journalism is young, and stock markets have
their own way of interpreting various events or the lack of them.
Stock markets run on sentiment and they react swiftly. The thing
is not to view a stock market movement as a reflection of the absolute
truth and rather a sentimental reaction to something.
a medium that is six years old, you cannot call it mature."
it also in part due to the minute to minute reportage of the bourses'
think so, simply because I don't think the stock markets are so
immature that they can be influenced by minute to minute reporting
on anything. I think you are giving too much importance to news
channels, if you think they are affecting the stock market movements.
then how would you comment on the fact that journalists on Dalal
Street were hit and abused by stock brokers and other investors?
are the media and killing the messenger has always been the easy
way out. What the journalists were doing was essentially reporting
the statements that certain politicians were making. If you ask
me, any reaction to the statements the politicians were making was
unwarranted and was uncalled for.
medium was only accelerating the process, and you cannot blame the
medium for doing that.
the broadcast medium was titillating its viewers by over emphasising
the stock markets and by a minute to minute account of the markets
fact is everything has undergone technological changes. The whole
electronic age has sped up things. And you are benefiting because
of that. You are able to see things live as they happen like Iraq
war, the 9/11 catastrophe. So, with that you have to accept that
everything gets accelerated. The movement of information, the time
lag between the information genesis and information delivery has
been reduced very sharply. So, that is part of life. So, the medium
itself is not titillating, it's only conveying things much faster.
somebody has said something stupid, then I cannot help that. I cannot
hold a brief for the whole broadcast industry and individuals within.
But yes, if the medium is distorting the message, then the medium
has to learn.
didn't really take a stand, and was standing on the fence when the
stock markets were crashing through the floor on Black Monday. It
is fairly clear (and subsequent investigation bore it out) that
there was something more than just panic response to the blather
the Left was throwing out at the time.
is no subsequent investigation that shows anything else until now.
And if you say we sat on the fence, I think you are complimenting
us in a way.
you didn't take a stand and were pussyfooting?
we don't take stances on live television. I think my colleagues
did a great job in keeping the flow of information all day. Their
tone was very neutral. So, why should we take a stance?
our coverage did suggest that this was unusual and we were trying
to bring that out through the people we were talking to. Also, it's
equally important to be neutral in such a situation.
me, but today assuming I was a high flying executive and I wanted
the stock markets to move in a certain way, all I need to do is
call you people and make a statement.
what makes you think it was not happening in print. I can quote
to you several articles that have brought the market to its knees.
The difference was that it happened in the morning and now it's
happening real time. That's all.
at 1992, the Harshad Mehta scam, it all began with a newspaper article,
which was great journalism. I remember when the BJP government came
into power for the first time there was a newspaper article which
said, that the new government may not allow the FIIs to invest in
India or will cut down the amount of investment FIIs can do. The
markets went for a complete shock and Jaswant Singh came to Mumbai
to talk to the media as there was no television then. So there are
enough instances across the world. So, different media have played
different roles in different times.
what are the essential requisites of a good broadcast journalist?
of business is very important, the feeling of news is most important.
A desire to be a part of the whole process are some of the critical