interview with IBN 7 managing editor Ashutosh
TV journalism has revolutionised the news universe in
on 4 June 2007
father wanted him to be a doctor, but he chose science as
his discipline in college. Within a short time, having done
his graduation from Allahabad University, he switched over
to philosophy as his master's degree subject. He did not stick
to that either, and did his M Phil from JNU in Foreign Affairs.
at 37, Ashutosh is the managing editor of the Hindi news channel
IBN 7. He has been with TV journalism ever since it took off
in the country.
why journalism, and why so many changes? "Restlessness,"
he smiles, almost apologetically. Suave and affable, Ashutosh
got a prize fellowship, the Dag Hammejoldt U N Scholarship
in 1996, and that was one of his two "major jumps in
has got pretty strong opinions and does not believe he needs
to pussyfoot his industry for some of the ills that have gotten
in and are sticking out like snot. But he has the analytical
tools to examine why these problems are there and tries to
find a way out.
spoke to Indiantelevision.com's Sujit Chakraborty.
Why is Hindi news television so loud, often crude, repetitive
I agree with you, but only partly. There has been an unbelievable
level of dumbing down of content, so much so that some of
it ought not to be there at all. I guess the editors of Hindi
channels would have to soon sit and decide what goes and what
does not. It's just the rating, the grabbing of eyeballs,
which has become the single focal point and, therefore, all
this is happening. But as time goes by, we shall have to mature.
This is an evolutionary process.
Absolutely. To that extent, I agree with you. But there
is the other positive side. Hindi TV journalism has completely
revolutionised the news universe. It has educated and broadened
the frontiers of news audience. Things have gone so local
it is difficult to believe. And yet, we have become unbelievably
global as well, for a Saddam story is as important to a Hindi
viewer as a rape in Nashik.
other huge positive is at the cultural level. I mean, who
knew Karva Chauth? We in the Hindi channels went and did Karva
Chauth and now it is a nationally recognised Hindu festival.
So is Ganesh Chaturthi
But Ganesh Chaturthi was always a huge affair
Yes, but in Maharashtra. We now have brought it to mainstream
news with round the clock coverage. Look at Dandiya dance
from Gujarat. It is now an elite-class affair in Delhi, and
our people here deck up and go for Dandiya. So we have brought
Ganesh Chaturthi and Dandiya to Delhi and taken Karva Chauth
and Chhat out of Hindi heartland to the rest of the country.
Hindi news TV has re-unified and revitalised Indian culture
other thing is that Hindi journalism has brought terror to
the law makers and law enforcers. They have changed radically
after the sting operations. Corruption has not been wiped
out, but things have changed, because now no one knows who
is a sting man and who is a common person.
importantly, Hindi TV journalism has brought in a sense of
urgency, which has forced newspapers to change. They had lost
all urgency, till we came along and gave them such a fright
by being there 24 X 7. They had to wake up
I mean the
Times Of India front page today is not what it was a few years
it that Hindi news channels introduced crudeness and audiences
lapped it up? Or is it that the audience itself was like that
and you catered to their tastes?
Both are responsible. But much of this is misunderstood.
Take for example: the 'F' word
. It sounds OK when said
in English but if I were to translate it in Hindi and use it,
there would be a horrific repercussion.
itself and the people who speak the language are robust, rustic,
loud, feudal. Hindi is used in the area where feudalism is
still prevalent largely. Hindi journalism is evolving to be
more liberal and things are changing.
journalism is sophisticated, modern and in touch with global
realities. But English news is only for South Block, India
International Centre, South Delhi's sophisticated lot, may
be. Even in Delhi, it makes no sense in Shahdara, a few kilometres
from the heart of the Capital. Hence, all these account for
the complaint of crudeness, etc., but things are changing.
Well, there is this stereotypical image of the Hindi journalist,
that you have to be the jholawalla and chew paan masalaa
try your best to be dirty and scrumpy, like this major presenter
who makes you feel he could any time spit out the paan juice
on the floor of the studio, despite the fact that he is a fine
National School of Drama actor
(Laughs) But for him that is his achievement, being sophisticated
and yet doing the opposite
Things, though, are changing
fast. I mean, look around our studio here, there is none like
that. Most of them are fluent in English, dress well
Hindi news reporter's image is changing fast. Today, in fact,
Hindi TV scribes are better paid than their English counterparts.
Because in English TV journalism, there is less competition,
so there is less demand and the salaries are lower. We have
to compete against huge odds.
are the synergies you draw from CNN-IBN?
We are two entirely different and independent channels.
Our outputs are different, but at the level of logistics and
information there is a lot of synergising. If there is a murder
somewhere, and we do not have that, but they (CNN-IBN) do, they
tell us. If they are short of an OB Van where something is happening,
they tell us and we give them the back up.
are the names of programmes in your channel ( from Breakfast
News downward) in English?
This is a planned thing. It is a clear signal to the viewers
that we have to be international in our approach. There is no
point in forcing a bad Hindi name for a good Hindi programme.
So if the name sounds good in English, and it catches on, we
shall use English names. That is a conscious approach.
journalism has brought terror to the law makers and
law enforcers. They have changed radically after the
all the time, Hindi channels are giving breaking
news. Pramod Mahajan dies, that is breaking news for all the
channels, from morning to late night. Don't you think this is
(Laughs) Those two words are the most misunderstood and
misused in Indian TV journalism. Breaking News is a TV technique
for catching the eye of the viewer; it is vibrant and attractive,
but it is being used for everything. We have to evolve somehow
to have different methods of presenting big breaking news and
the ordinary news.
of your programmes are very long drawn. Do you think any audience
would stay that long with a channel?
These long programmes are meant to tell the audience that
here is a basket from which you get everything, from Saddam
Hussain to Bollywood to travel and lifestyle. Stay with the
channel and you will get everything from the same basket.
is it getting reflected in your TRPs?
(Somewhat uncertainly), Yes, there is a good response. We
have gained ratings and respectability.
would you say is the driver programme for your channel?
We simply do not subscribe to the idea of a driver programme.
If the driver programme is good, the channel's showing is good.
But if the driver programme flops, it all goes down. So we cannot
have one or two driver programmes. The idea is to create a channel
that has all good content across.
asked a friend once why there were no programmes on environment
on Hindi channels, and he said it does not sell. Is that true?
True, that is the worst tragedy of Hindi TV journalism.
There is a lack of concern, and I am party to that crime. Blame
it on eyeball journalism. Besides, can you imagine what kind
of money BBC or CNN or Nat Geo spend on their programmes?
big money. Environmental programmes are the most ethical sting
operations you can carry out at minimal cost and people would
stay glued to them because it relates to their life. Also, corruption
(Ponders) Yes, I see what you mean, but may be we need to
give some real thought to this.
do you see yourself in the ratings warfare?
Everyone wants to be number one, and so do we. But as a
group, we are have decided that the biggest thing that we need
to develop is credibility. We need to bring back the credibility
of TV news journalism. In the process, if we become number one,
so be it. I would prefer to stay at the second or third place
if people told me that we are hugely credible.
You see so much sophistication in foreign channels. Why do Indian
channels never pick that up?
Oh, Indian channels are way ahead in terms of energy, vitality
and intelligence. And we make mistakes, from the exuberance
of youth. That can be corrected. But foreign journalism is not
what we want to do.
journalism is far superior. We also went to war in Kargil,
and we were taken there by the Indian army. But Indian channels
did not spare the army for the mistakes they made. We did
critical stories against the army as well.
have that freedom. But look at CNN's embedded journalism
they not only go with the army, they become the army. This
is unimaginable, there is no democracy. BBC was marginally
better, but just that.
|Go to Top
for Executive Dossier Archives