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"When there is a landmark story, we know people are going to come to CNN because it is a name that everybody trusts" : Monita Rajpal

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All of 30, CNN International's anchor Monita Rajpal has been with the news channel since 2001. Rajpal anchors World News and has previously also hosted CNN's technology and environment feature programme - Global Challenges and Inside the Middle East.

Rajpal has covered stories such as the US-led War Against Terror, the on-going Middle East conflict, the Catholic Church scandal, the unrest in Liberia, the swearing-in of the Iraqi Governing Council, the beatification of Mother Teresa and the fall of Kandahar during the war in Afghanistan. In 2002, Rajpal co-anchored the exclusive week-long special with senior international correspondent Nic Robertson regarding the discovery of al Qaeda training tapes.

Rajpal joined CNN from Citytv in Toronto, where she was a general assignment reporter and anchor. In addition to her work at Citytv, she anchored the prime-time news show at Cable Pulse 24, Citytv's 24-hour news channel.

Rajpal, along with CNN's New Delhi bureau chief Satinder Bindra, was in the city recently to promote the second edition of the CNN Young Journalist Award.

Excerpts from the chat Rajpal had with indiantelevision.com's Hetal Adesara:

How and why did you choose broadcast journalism as a career?

I started working for a local television station in Toronto where I started at the bottom and then climbed up the ladder. I think the interest in journalism came when I was in my last year of high school. I loved writing and my teachers suggested that I take up journalism as a career but I had never really thought about it. And from then on it has been a snowball. Today, I find myself at CNN.

What's your schedule like? These days all news channels are in the race of breaking news first. How do you work in such a scenario?

It can be very busy and crazy schedule but I love it. When a major story is breaking or a landmark event is taking place - I love being a part of it. I guess that's when you really feel the impact and the reach of television.

What according to you differentiates CNN from other news channels in terms of coverage, breaking news first etc?

CNN's reach and correspondents that it has all over the place makes it different from the others. Also the fact that we have a vast pool of talent in our organisation. When there is a landmark story, we know people are going to come to CNN because it is a name that everybody trusts and they know they are going to get a big picture here.

"When a major story is breaking or a landmark event is taking place - I love being a part of it"

What are the qualities required for a person to succeed as an anchor?

In this field, I think a person needs to have curiosity, the passion to tell stories and the passion to talk to people. After all, news is about people and the idea to bring the big picture and put it all in perspective for the viewers. I think that is most important.

In your career as a broadcast journalist, what has been your most challenging assignment, interview?

Oh boy! Most challenging assignment! I think everyday brings a different challenge and a different experience. I don't think there is one in particular. I just know that for me it has been a priviledge to be a part of some major stories that have been broken while I have been anchoring at CNN. I have covered stories around the war in Afghanistan when the troops went into Kandahar for the first time. Actually Satinder was with the US troop and I remember being at the desk and we broke that. That was quite big for me.

Then, of course, during the war in Iraq - talking to journalists, politicians, common people and our correspondents from the region when Baghdad fell. Being a part of what impact this had on an average Iraqi was an adrenaline drive in itself and quite an experience.

Considering the sensitive areas that you cover like the US-led war against terrorism, the ongoing Middle East conflict etc, have you ever faced any problems? Have you been on the field in the war countries?

I haven't been to Iraq and Afghanistan. Our role at the desk at the headquarters is to bring all the pieces of the picture together. It is like a jigsaw puzzle. Our correspondents are in various parts of the world and our job is to bring all the pieces together. That, I think is an important part too.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in the broadcast journalism field? Do you think being a woman has helped?

I think in this day and age, women have definitely broken barriers. There are so many women journalists who are out in the war zone now. There is our own Christiana Amanpour and many others who are out there in the field. So I don't think there are any barriers… At least I hope not.

Also, I don't think it is a question of it being easy or difficult for a woman in this field. I think it is a question of trying to do the best job that you can. A male and a female reporter each will have a different set of difficulties and ease. So it really depends.

With so many news channels that have recently come up in India, what is your view of Indian media?

I have been here for the last few days and have had the chance to watch some local and the national news channels. I think it is amazing and the media here has definitely grown. The talent that is here is great. You should be very proud of the journalists and the news channels that you have here.

What is your take on ethics in journalism?

There should be ethics in journalism. At the end of the day, journalism is journalism. There is the basic foundation of journalism and that is to tell the truth and be a neutral and unbiased party and telling all sides of the story. That's the basic ethics that all journalists adhere to.

How difficult it is to keep your personal views away while you are reporting?

Again, it is not the question of easy or difficult... as a journalist you just 'have' to keep your personal opinions aside while reporting. It is the reality of your career and your life as a journalist that you have to remain neutral. That's the bottom line.

There was this recent study which said that the percentage of Asian and African journalists in the US has been declining. What is your take on it?

Well, I am not personally aware of this study but what I can say is that I think it is important that we continue to recognise the fact that we are a global village and there are people from all over the world, who are not just living in one region but have emigrated to all parts of the world. And we all make up a community that needs to be represented. I believe CNN does represent that.

"As a journalist you just 'have' to keep your personal opinions aside while reporting. That's the bottom line"

What have been the major highlights of your career so far?

I guess it was starting my career as a reporter in Toronto and getting to know people in the city on a very local level. And then of course getting my job at CNN. There have been so many highlights that it's kind of hard to say. I am very grateful for all the experiences that I have and all the opportunities that I have been given.



Considering the long and demanding working hours, how do you manage to unwind?

Sometimes I just love to hang out at my apartment… reading, watching TV or listening to music. I TRY to go to the gym and also to my yoga classes. Sometimes I just like to go out with my friends.

What are your normal working hours?

Oh! They are all over the place lately. Sometimes I am at work at three o'clock in the morning and I work till mid-day. Sometimes I am there in the afternoon. So it's all over the place.

Is there any one person that you look up to in this industry?

There is no one person. I learn from all the journalists that I see when I am watching news and not necessarily just CNN. I learn from their experiences and how they tell stories. I think it is really important to do that.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Let's see… I believe I am very down to earth. I am a regular person like anybody else and that means that I am interested in everyday people and what is that makes them tick. I believe that my strength is that I like to talk to people.

My weakness… maybe the thing that I do 'feel'. Maybe it is not a weakness. Sometimes when I see or hear stories about innocent people being killed or children getting killed… I really do feel sad. I don't think it is a weakness but in this business it is sometimes very hard to put that aside. Maybe that is perceived as a weakness.

Where do you see yourself five years down the line?

I don't know. I hope I can still keep working hard… doing what I am doing and continue to learn. I don't think that far in advance anymore. I am just enjoying everyday and the ride that I am on right now and I am thrilled where I am and 'am hoping that I will continue to grow.

 

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