Zee News has been courting controversy on many fronts lately. It all started with the JNU agitation and later extended to the NIT issue, and in all these instances, the channel’s reportage was termed outrightly biased and even politically motivated. Even, the Delhi government filed a case against the channel for its coverage of the JNU issue. However, the channel has contested the allegations against it and termed them mere smear campaigns.
In an exclusive interview with exchange4media, Sudhir Chaudhary, Editor Zee News, shares his side of the story surrounding the controversies and also speaks about the new low in journalism that we are witnessing today.
Having been associated with leading news organisations like Zee, Sahara, Live India and India TV, how would you describe the journey so far?
My journey has always been interesting. I have always worked in start-ups. In 1995, I exited from Zee to launch Sahara Samay. After launching Sahara Samay, I moved to India TV to launch their channel and in 2008, I took another risk by starting Live India without knowing its future.
When I rejoined Zee News in 2012, it wasn’t a start-up any longer but one of the leading news orgainsations. I had a plan in my mind to change the direction of Zee news and in the last four years there has been a remarkable change in the way we approach and report news
How is your show (DNA) different from other news programs with similar format?
DNA’s informative, in-depth and reports factual content that fulfils the need and expectations of the viewers, which is otherwise missing on the existing news channels. It is our constant endeavour to provide exclusive, intelligent and informative content. It is a well-researched programme, bringing forth updates of the latest happenings across the state, city and district levels. The USP of the show is its simplicity. It showcases the DNA test of every big news, which the nation needs to know in a simple and uncomplicated manner, thus proving to be the nation’s favourite news classroom.
Some people say your show is more of a general knowledge hour than a news bulletin, how do you counter that?
All the news editors and journalists need to go back to journalism school. The definition of news is different for others and it’s different for me. 99 % mainstream media thinks news comes from Parliament , Supreme Court , North Block, and South Block, for them news revolves around that five kilometre radius and I don’t visit that five-kilometre area for news.
I met few TV experts and they suggested me to focus on the 25+ age group, because women and youth don’t watch news. I took this as a challenge and wanted to create a news show that appeals to a cross section of viewers. It became successful and today from school kids to women, everybody watches DNA.
There is growing perception that Zee News is biased towards a particular political party, how would you explain this?
Zee News basically works on the nationalist editorial line. We are portraying ourselves as the nationalist channel. So unfortunately what has happened is that people have associated nationalism with BJP. For example, if you say, ‘I love India’, people will say you are a pro-BJP person, and if you say India is not the right place to live anymore’ then they will give you a certificate of being secular. We are not pro-congress neither pro-BJP, we only believe in promoting the nationalist point of view, which is a reflection of the mass sentiment.
You said you are a nationalist channel, does that mean you don’t believe in being neutral?
Nobody is neutral now. Media has been polarised badly and you must have seen it in the JNU’s case. I am saying correct things which none of them are able to speak. We speak about Article 370 and its implementation and we are not saying this because Article 370 is in BJP’s manifesto. We raise uncomfortable questions while the rest of the media is divided between one or the other political party.
What do you have to say about your former employee Vishwa Deepak, who accused Zee news of biased reporting during the JNU controversy?
We have 2200 employees in this company and if one person said this while putting in his papers to portray himself as a ‘hero’, there are still 2199 employees who stayed with us and supported the company and believed in our coverage of the incident. So, which side should you listen to?
Incidents like Vishwa Deepak’s resignation, JNU’s doctored video accusation and now Delhi government’s complaint against Zee News. Hasn’t all this impacted the image of Zee News adversely?
It does not impact the image at all. When we have chosen this path against all odds, we will be in trouble and all political parties, politicians whom we cover and harm their area of interest, will trouble us using various means. Now, they have adopted Vishwa Deepak, filed a complaint against us, we are used to it.
Just give it a thought; why is all this happening only with us and not with other channels? Because they take the very convenient line, no one gets troubled.
Do you think that contemporary journalism is in bad shape?
Very bad shape, people who came to practice journalism are not aware of their role now. Many of them are supporting any political party and they have become extremely power hungry. All big journalists and editors want to see themselves as advisors; you can figure this out from their columns. They are not writing for their readers anymore and no one is focusing on nation building.
Here we are talking about politics, corruption, and journalism. Everything is in bad shape, focusing on media, how do you think we can reshape it?
Since independence our politicians and media both have failed. Politicians are making media dance to their tunes. If you will see the wealth and assets of all the famous faces of newspapers and news channels you will get to know.
Media nowadays is busy covering Lutyens’ journalism and meeting over a cup of tea with ministers in their offices. No one goes to Latur and address the real issues. Once we reach there, people come following us to click selfies and go back. I call journalists like these as ‘Designer Reporters’ and they have opened small boutiques to run the show.
In Zee Media, all the Senior Editors have to declare their assets and properties from the current month and we are starting this from our organisation to propagate transparency in the system.
Don’t you think, media is too dependent on government advertisements?
You have to free media from government advertisements. The channels or newspaper should not be dependent on government ads. If you are too dependent on government ads you can’t be unbiased because you need advertisement. We have rejected ads from Arvind Kejriwal because it was not fitting into our editorial policy.
What role does social media play in today’s journalism?
News consumption today is not the same as pre-satellite news when people waited for their morning papers or sat down at an appointment viewing for the evening news on television. Today, it is all about the word “Engage” through our knowledge, expertise, reach and much more.
Social media is radically changing the industry’s concept of what a scoop or breaking news is. Journalists are forced to accelerate the traditional journalistic process because people now want real time information. People want the information as soon as the journalist or the media outlet receives it. So to sit on a story until it is complete is to risk being out-scooped by competitors or even worse to be dubbed slow by the public.
It is now a necessity to give the audience bits of information at a time, as soon as the information is available. No media outlet can afford to wait. Today bloggers, citizen journalists, and twitterati make and break the news. In today’s time, there are numerous opportunities for news and its practitioners but there are also potential pitfalls that we cannot ignore.
What is your vision for the Zee Media Group? Where do you see it in five years from now?
TV is a dynamic medium. The news is even more dynamic. We see Zee Media growing from strength to strength serving our audiences, expanding our footprint to touch more people while keeping ourselves relevant to their lives.
What should be the way forward for news coverage on Indian television?
Definitely Ground zero reporting, Proactive and Reactive news and news that provides positivity and extra information for one and all to seek and use in their daily lives – would be the way forward for news coverage on Indian television.