Zee News has now become one of the most credible source of information according to a recent study by Brand Trust Report India 2016. But alongside this upward trend and the growing popularity of the channel, its editor Sudhir Chaudhary has had to face controversies and hostile reactions with some sections even accusing the channel of partisanship and inspired by political leanings.
Here is Chaudhary in conversation with Samachar4Media’s editorial in-charge Abhishek Mehrotra and correspondent Vikas Saxena. Excerpts:
How is Zee News trying to draw its own independent profile and creating its own image?
Two major initiatives have been taken by the channel: one, ban on use of mobile phones in the campus of the channel and two, restriction on watching other news channels.
Mobile phones create confusion and distort thinking. Initially some people opposed the idea including those on the assignment desk and reporters who wondered from where they would get news leads. We do not want our journalists to follow what others are doing and they do not know what rivals are putting out. This has helped develop independent thinking and promote originality as staffers are no longer influenced by others. When the DNA show was started our study showed that news channels were not dishing out enough information. This was a vital gap which we filled up by providing detailed background and inside information relating to news stories.
Has media credibility suffered in recent years?
When I see people working as journalists and joining politics by hitching to the bandwagon, then I feel there has been a marked credibility loss of the media. During my study people told me that the mass media in our country was steeply losing its credibility. People were losing faith and doubted what was put out by news channels. This is a bitter truth. First people lost confidence in their politicians, then it was the police and now viewers are losing interest and faith in the media. A large number of films using the credibility loss and corrupt ways of the media have been made. Who knows we may soon see a villain in the guise of an editor or a news channel reporter.
Like other news channels does Zee News also engage ‘untrained reporters’ to file stories on army operations?
These days many news channels seem to believe that the safest bet to secure high TRP is to put 10 or 15 or 150 reporters for 10 hours and keep endlessly dishing out the same old facts. But this has become too boring for the viewers who are tired of this kind of stuff being put out. We get our reporters trained by army personnel so they specialise and know their job.
Is Sudhir Chaudhary with the BJP or the Congress?
Yes this charge of me being a pro BJP or a Modi bhakt has often been levelled against me. But this is not the case. Luckily I am a nationalist. Today people have identified nationalism with the BJP. For instance, if you were to say I love India, people would say you are a BJP bhakt or supporter. And if you were to say that this country is not fit enough for anyone to stay here, you would be taken for a secular element. I am therefore neither with the BJP nor with the Congress.
Will you join politics in the near future?
No, not at all. What then will be the difference between me and other journalists? Though right now most journalists are doing just that and many editors desire to join politics. You find media content reflecting their inclinations and predispositions. This continues for a couple of years and eventually they join politics. How can we emulate those we are criticising today? People will criticise us also tomorrow. I would prefer to stick to my field and do something worthwhile here. If as editors we cannot do much, even when 8 to 10 crore viewers are watching our programmes, then what can one achieve through politics?
Like other journalists will you shy away from Twitter if trolled?
No, I too get my share of abuses and brickbats, but I will never shy away from Twitter. We should respect all shades of opinions. Only six months ago I joined Facebook.
Some journalists and editors complain you often take them to task with your caustic comments.
Look, I don’t name or identify people but call them designer journalists, because most of them report from Lutyen’s zone. They sit in the IIC and report on North and South blocks. They want to report only from Rashtrapati Bhavan and the corridors of the Parliament. But if you ask them to go to Uri or Chapra where children died some years ago, they will not want to go out in the field, or out of Delhi. I am an editor and if I want to report from here, I can do it, but I will never do that. Since I have nothing to do with media politics, I hardly talk to any editor nor am I influenced by any. Media these days is much like politics and parties. If you join them you can be assured of awards and recognitions. Power too flows from Lutyen’s zone but I have never wanted to be part of all this. I do not wish to participate in any kind of politicking from Lutyen’s zone.
Aam Admi Party leaders feel you are opposed to their politics
Perhaps you have not noted, I have praised and supported all their good moves, but their leaders only see the criticism I inflict on their wrong doings. I feel if the public has given them such a decisive mandate they should reciprocate the faith by doing good work and stay away from sterile politics of advertisements. What I feel is right, I tell my viewers.
70 years after independence, is the present government going in the right direction?
Whoever is in power should learn to speak less and work more. This is what I keep telling Aam Admi Party leaders also. In power or in opposition leaders should learn to talk sensibly and in control. This NDA government too is facing the same problem. They knew what they had promised and talked about was not easy to deliver or implement, like attacking Pakistan. Diplomatic measures against Pakistan can be taken and no one opposes them.
In JNU everyone knew for years that pro Pakistan slogans were being raised and the media had long accepted this trend in the campus. But when in February 2016 we took it up after feeling enough was enough, a process of reforms and structural changes has been set in motion.
When you stepped in the media world and took up journalism as a career, who were your role models and inspirations?
At that time there was no news channel. I used to watch Rajat Sharma and Vinod Dua and I remembered only those names. I liked both as there were no other options. After that there has been a flood of channels. How much one editor likes another or which anchor is better than the other, these should be left to the better judgment of the viewers who alone can decide the popularity ratings of programme presenters and anchors. This should be left to the audience rather than a handful of intellectuals in Dehli-Mumbai.
Has the Jindal episode dented your image?
When that happened I used to think the media engages in negative criticism and does not voice the frustrations and aspirations of the people, but I never imagined I myself would be the subject of media scrutiny. Without verifying and cross checking, news stories are put out and I became a victim of this unhealthy trend. Stories about me were circulated without verification. But there was a section in the media which knew there was something wrong somewhere and this could not be possible. Many doubted I would ever bounce back with greater vigour and determination. I was back with DNA and its success was an effective reply to detractors and critics, because the viewers not only liked this programme but returned to the Zee news fold. People vouch and swear by Zee News today, the stable and loyal viewership has helped us to venture boldly to cross newer frontiers. This again proves that people do not necessarily follow what bulk of the media says or does. Media barons mistakenly assume they can make and unmake anyone, and I am a living testimony to this. I am therefore neither a member of any unofficial media association except the national broadcast association, and I do not follow the norms or the standards set. My biggest source of strength is my promoter Subhash Chandra. Had I been in some other channel, I would not have been able to have my way and chart out my own independent course. Whether the issue was Jindal or the thinking behind drastic changes in the channel’s policies, Subhash Chandra ji always supported and backed us to the hilt. From Kashmir to JNU whatever stand we took, our director was the anchor of strength. Without him the journey would not have been so smooth and hassle free. One should be aware of the thinking and commitments of the person at the top of the organisation.
Will Sudhir Chaudhary say goodbye to Zee News?
I have said this before and again I am repeating it through www. samachar4media that the channel chairman has already tweeted to clarify and I am also denying these conjectures categorically. Zee News is in my DNA. How can I stay away from here? Whatever I want to do will be done here and I have ample opportunities to execute my plans.