Television

RIP Jehangir Pocha: A journalist & a gentleman

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To most viewers, he looked fit as a fiddle. Hence, when news broke that NewsX editor in chief Jehangir Pocha had breathed his last, it came as a shocker. Some had only spoken to him the previous evening, others last week, or very recently, or like us earlier this year when he attended the Indian Digital Television Honours in New Delhi as a representative of the ITV group.

At first glance, Jehangir came across as a cool, calm, collected sort of a chap. A cultured Parsi gentleman used to speaking softly in measured tones when he encountered you in person. Beneath that mild-mannered exterior ran a probing journalistic mind, which posed many an incisive question that put those he interviewed on the 9X News channel on the spot.  

But unlike other celebrity news anchors on other English news channels who indulge in histrionics and one-sided shrill shouting matches, he gave his guests a chance to speak. His questions begged an answer, and respond guests had to, because Jehangir would not let them get away without doing so. Whether it was the former chief minister of Delhi Sheila Dixit or Amitabh Bachchan or Anna Hazare.

He was only a phone call away for us at the indiantelevision.com group and general manager Anoop Wanvari would oft reach out to him to partner with our various ground initiatives which he willingly did, even when he was finding it a struggle to keep NewsX going.  We are grateful to him for his support in our times of need.

A former colleague, Indrajit Gupta, the founding editor of Forbes India, writes in an obituary piece in BusinessWorld, that he got a call early last week from him, saying he was frustrated with the Indian system and he was dying to go back abroad.

“He sounded agitated. Venture capitalists had promised him they’d step in after the elections. But they hadn’t to back his plans. He wanted to bid for some distressed media assets in play,” writes Gupta in his obit. “The frustration was beginning to creep in.”

His last tweet on the night before he passed away mentioned that he was “hurrying home” with a news clip (about a Bombay High Court judgment that stated that reaching home late consistently without informing your wife amounts to cruelty) attached to it.

His demise prompted member of parliament Derek O’Brien to tweet: “The high pressure life of TV journalism?  Appan Menon at 49, SP Singh at 49 and today @JehangirPocha at 45 NewsX. Gone too soon.”

And that’s a question which begs answering: is the high pressure life of TV news journalism getting to those in it?  They may not know it, but it probably is. When you are working in the business of television news, you are working in a pressure-cooker environment.  

Deadlines because of the competitive nature of the business, irregular meals, pressure from affected vested interests while reporting, reporting from dangerous and conflict zones, keeping pace with the latest developments – the news journalist is on a treadmill that never seems to be stopping.

For the managements of news organisations, they have to additionally deal with rising costs not accompanied by revenue increases; carping advertising partners disturbed by news reports; maintaining, nay, improving viewership ratings, innovating with changing technology and what have you.

One can say that all these pressures are intrinsic – and have been so for long - to running a news channel. But they have been magnified in the recent past in India with increasing competition and the rapid commercialisation of news. It is quite likely that these will exacerbate further.

Jehangir was under pressure. His channel was in keen competition with the English language news leader Times Now.  He wanted to expand his company’s business footprint, could not for want of capital and was thus frustrated, which added to his pressure.

Therefore it’s about time TV news organisations introspected and even made those that are employed with them look deep within. Regular health checks, exercise, and leading a well-paced daily routine generally should be encouraged even more.

It could go some way in preventing many more from going the Jehangir Pocha, Appan Menon, and SP Singh way.

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