"Satiating viewers' news curiosity a challenge"

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BBC World's veteran newscaster Nik Gowing is a multi-faceted personality. Not only is he a founding committee member for the Rory Peck Trust, which campaigns for the interests of freelance TV camerapersons, but is a governor of the Ditchley Foundation, and a member of two steering committees - the British-German Konigswinter Committee and the Strategy Committee of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition at Harvard University.

From 1996, when he joined the Beebs, to March 2000, Nik was principal anchor for the 90-minute weekday news programme, The World Today, and its predecessor, NewsDesk. He was a founding presenter of Europe Direct and has been a guest anchor on both HARDtalk and Simpson's World. He is also a regular moderator of the Sunday news analysis programme Dateline London. Nik draws on both his extensive reporting experience over two decades in diplomacy, defence and international security, and his presentation and chairing skills. He has been a main anchor for much of BBC World's coverage of major international crises, including Kosovo in 1999, and the Iraq war in 2003.

Nik was on air for six hours shortly after the twin towers were hit in New York City on 11th September 2001. BBC World's coverage of the terrorist attacks on the US won the 2002 'Hotbird' Award for the Best News Channel. He fronted coverage of the unfolding drama of Diana, Princess of Wales' accident in Paris in August 1997 and made the announcement of her death to a global audience estimated at half a billion. He also anchors special location coverage of major international events, and chairs BBC World Debates at the World Economic Forum in Davos and the annual Nobel Awards in Stockholm.



Before joining the BBC, Nik was a foreign affairs specialist and presenter at ITN for 18 years. From 1989 to 1996 he was Diplomatic Editor for the one-hour nightly news analysis programme, Channel Four News, from ITN in London. His reports were aired frequently by the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS, NBC's SuperChannel and CNN International. His reporting from Bosnia was part of the Channel Four News portfolio, which won the BAFTA 'Best News Coverage' award in 1996.

Independently of his work for BBC News, Nik has developed a sought-after analytical expertise on the management of information in the new transparent environments of conflicts and emergencies. No wonder, he was called in by the Delhi-based Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) to lecture journalism students on the tyranny of handling real time information in the age of information super-highway. The lecture was delivered on 8 April, 2005.

An avid outdoor sports enthusiast, Nik spoke to Indiantelevision.com's Manisha Bhattacharjee during his India visit. Excerpts:

You've been delivering lectures recently. What's the difference between lecturing and presenting NEWS?

Well, the two use the same skills of expression and clarity for getting across a message and of talking to people in the expectation that they're wanting to know something. When I'm presenting to people in London studio it's like I'm talking to pane of glass. But when I'm speaking at a lecture like this, to about 300 people, it's different, but I like it because then you get some kind of idea, feedback, and some impression of what is happening. And how the message is going down.



People watch news channels because they are curious and they want the curiosity answered. We want to articulate questions in viewers' minds and answer them...I think that's a big challenge.

BBC is unleashing a rebranding strategy. What kind of shows would you be presenting now?

There is no rebranding, as such. It has got a very important new slogan-putting news first-which is what we’ve been doing all the time. Actually, we will be reminding people that BBC World is primarily an international and global news channel. It would not mean anything different to me.



Can you share your experience of being with the BBC?

Boy…that’s a big question!



Does technology exert pressure on journalists?

We are talking about significant change in technology, which is putting enormous pressure on us. THE Internet, mobile phone cameras are all putting enormous real-time pressures on us. It’s just the nature of the newsroom (that it puts professionals under pressure).



What are the challenges reporters and presenters face when the channel is in the process of rebranding?

There are no particular, or rather, any significant changes in the way we are doing our jobs. We are doing it in the same way. Well, what has changed is that we are reminding people that the brand BBC and BBC News always puts the news first.

Your vast experience ranges from diplomacy, defence and international security, over two decades. How has your experience been as a reporter and a presenter?

Well, I was a reporter eight years ago and presenting is about bringing the experiences of being a reporter to the job of being a presenter. It is best being inquiring, it’s about being questioning…it’s not taking ‘no’ for an answer. It’s about cajoling people…trying and getting information from people and it’s about communicating with the people at the end of a camera lens, which you should be doing anyway as a reporter. I think the best presenters have been reporters.



Was 9/11 a turning point in your life?

It was a turning point in lot of PEOPLE’S lives, not only mine. It was reflecting something awful, which was changing people and changing people very quickly.

"BBC still remains a very strong public service broadcasters, despite the Hutton Report. We have strengthened some of our journalistic procedure on the basis of a report, called the Neil report, that has shown us the way to strengthen BBC journalism and consolidate it."

Recently, Ficci-Frames 2005 ended in Mumbai and since you’ve chaired sessions at various forums like BBC World debates at the World Economic Forum in Davos and the annual Nobel Prize awards in Stockholm, do you think such fora throw up solutions to any problems?



Of course, they do. Yeah…but people can decide not to go to the forums if they don't want to. Of course, bringing people together is valuable because everyone learns something. There are problems...it is about airing new ideas and being in the business of journalism of reflecting new ideas and new thinking and it is about understanding the ongoing process and being well-informed. This year, the World Debate that I chaired, was about the image of America in the world after 9/11 and after Iraq and it was pretty critical of America. And, look within four weeks President Bush announced his new assistant secretary for public emergency because of his awareness that the American image is too negative. That was exactly what we were reflecting as any good journalist would. We were reflecting the concern around the world about America's image.

How you do perceive broadcast journalism is shaping up in India?

Right now,it is a very vibrant environment that journalists are operating in.



A recent survey has shown that CNN has a ‘sexier’ image than the BBC. What do you feel about this?

The thing about the marketplace is that there are different ways of doing things and the market makes the choice. We have a particular way of doing it, which is different from our competitors and the fact that BBC is still very strong indicates that we have the loyalty and a great way of winning our audienceS as well.



Being a committee member on the Rory Peck Trust, which campaigns for the interests of freelance TV cameramen and women, what kind of interests do you safeguard?

This committee has been set up to take care of the interests of journalists who have been killed, who do not have any pension, people who do not have insurance, cameramen who are taking great risks on behalf of us all in different quarters of the US trying to get the best shot possible of the action.



No such committee exists in India. DO you find this a serious lacuna?

Yes, that is something that should be done, because everyone is sent to the danger zone as an employee. So, as an employer, you are responsible for your people.I’m not initiating anything in India. But there are other people like the Rory Peck Trust and websites like the International News Safety Institute:http://www.newssafety.com/ that people can access.

What has been the fallout of the Hutton Report related to the presence of WMD in Iraq and the subsequent attack by the allies of the US, including the UK?

The BBC is still as strong as ever. We are all still employed except the chairman, director-general and Andrew Gilligan. BBC still remains a very strong public service broadcaster. We have strengthened some of our journalistic procedure following a 27-page report, which is available on the BBC website called the Neil report that speaks about certain things, which have got to be done to strengthen BBC journalism and consolidate it. There is no fall out as such. We have dramatically improved the speed at which any complaints are handled as well.



Being such a busy journalist your spare time must be a rare commodity. How do you spend these rare moments?

Sleeping…skiing and Cycling.

 
 

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