Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor with India Today group and veteran journalist with over two decades of rich experience, has been honoured with the Asian TV Award for ‘The Best News Presenter’ for his coverage on the counting day of the general elections, making him the first Indian to receive this honour. Sardesai has also been in the news for his recently launched book ‘2014: The Election That Changed India’. In a conversation with exchange4media, Sardesai talks about the biggest challenge for news television - ‘restoring back its credibility’.
“People are seeing and enjoying news television today as a nautanki, we can’t get carried away by the surround sound. The biggest challenge is not to get carried away by the tamasha going on; we are not making Chennai Express or Ek Tha Tiger, it is a news programme,” says Sardesai with a touch of annoyance at perception of news television today.
He urges young journalists to stick to their beliefs and not allow their seniors to let them take short cuts, and calls Prime Minister Modi a terrific communicator, who is a good listener and filled with energy which is infectious.
On being the first Indian to receive the Asian TV Award for ‘The Best News Presenter
It is a terrific feeling, especially when you see the competition, it is a recognition of Indian television in a way. I have always taken great pride in the Indian election coverage and this award is a recognition of that which makes it all the more special.
What are the five pieces of advice you would give young journalists of today?
1. Don’t get into journalism if you want to get famous – get into news television only if you are passionate about news.
2. Keep your mind open to not doing just news television; look at digital look beyond the obvious. There is more to journalism than just television.
3. Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It may take three years or five years. Stick at it.
4. Always stick to your beliefs, don’t allow your seniors to allow you to take short cuts.
5. Always retain your idealism and fire, always retain the fire.
Do you think it is today becoming more difficult for young journalists to remain idealistic given external pressures?
I believe this medium is going through a difficult period, where people tend to compromise their value system all too easily. I also believe that for every five people who compromise there are always two who are holding the flame of truth, so the glass is half full for me .
In a recent interview you have said that PM Modi is a good listener and great at delegation….
Yes, he is also a terrific communicator with huge amounts of energy 24/7 and that energy can be infectious.
Having covered elections in the past what was your approach to the coverage this year?
From my perspective, it was a 360 degree approach, the idea was to provide a variety of programmes to the audience whether it was a documentary or it was an interactive, high quality debate, deep analysis of numbers, or the lighter side of elections. There are different constituencies of viewers, not all are attracted to ‘minute’ of politics , some may want to see lighter side, some may want to see profiles , the approach was to treat it as the biggest news event in the world.
We spoke of being idealistic and objective earlier, do you think the objectivity in the poll coverage was lost once it became clear that BJP and NaMo were gaining the upper hand?
Let’s be honest. The BJP got disproportionate amount of coverage but they were also winning. It was also a ‘hava’ and at end of the day television represents the mood in the country which was anti- congress. The media didn’t create the Modi wave; the media rode the Modi wave.
What is your word of caution to journalists covering elections?
We have to be conscious that when we cover elections we cannot be seen as taking sides. The problem is we get carried away and become cheerleaders, part of us became cheerleaders for Mr. Modi. We need to keep a healthy distance from all the players in the elections.
What is the biggest challenge for News Television going forward?
Our biggest challenge going forward is getting back our credibility, people are seeing and enjoying news television today as a nautanki, we can’t get carried away by the surround sound . The biggest challenge is not to get carried away by the tamasha going on. We are not making Chennai Express or Ek Tha Tiger, it is a news programme.