Rajdeep Sardesai does not need an introduction. But we would like to introduce him as the only Indian journalist of his stature who replies to every single email he gets, even from a common man. You can follow him on twitter @Rajdeep
The interviewer forgot to ask what makes him so down to earth. May be next time.
You did your graduation in Economics. So what was going through your mind then?
When I took economics I was doubtful.. no I think I was sure I wanted to become an advocate. I wanted to pursue law after economics. So, law was certainly a goal of mine at that time as well.
What inspired you to choose law as your career?
It was that time I thought that this profession can provide me independence with which I can fight for the people’s rights. That’s how I observed my transition to law. But after a practice of six months I realized that .. well I would say, I was always vacillating between law and journalism. I always liked journalism. I also did an internship in a newspaper during my college days. So eventually I went for journalism, but still, sometimes I reckon I should have continued with my practice.
How was your life at Oxford University?
Oxford University was great. I spent two and a half years there. And it was fun because I got a chance to meet people from different parts of the world.
Do you recall any memorable incident from Oxford?
One is I scored 50 runs in my debut match and that was good. The other is, I played a match against Pakistan from combined Oxford and Cambridge side and I got out very easily on only two runs. And that time I reflected, ‘Let’s do something else in life.’
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Any incident you remember from practicing at Mumbai High Court?
I remember doing a case for Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. Some legal dispute over her property; that’s the one case that I still remember. I was of course only a junior but I still remember going to court with it.
You have started and established CNN IBN. Did you think of launching your own channel when you had to leave it?
See when I left CNN IBN, I used to consider it as my own channel itself; the channel I started with the support of Network18. What should I say now…when you have initiated something on your own it is very difficult to quit it, but I had to do it nonetheless. And I did not think immediately of starting my own channel, instead I wrote my first book, 2014: The Election That Changed India and that provided me an opportunity to try something different because during the course of ten years at CNN IBN and ten-eleven years at NDTV, I couldn’t get time enough to think about anything else. And the thought of starting my own channel didn’t strike me immediately, even at that time. Maybe there was no opportunity as well but I didn’t think about it at that stage. I think I was just exhausted.
What are the positive and negative aspects of working in television?
On the positive side I would say that working in television gives you a lot of visibility, instant visibility, instant recognition. Live television, in particular is genuinely something in which there is an immediacy, there is a sense of urgency which you have. This is the age of TV, so people will watch breaking news on TV. So you get visibility, you feel a sense of exigency, you feel that you are there like a ring side observer of politics.
The weakness I think is that everything is now ‘breaking news’. Everything is now sensationalized, so I don’t think the quality of news remains anymore, to be honest.
On what skills should a student who aspires to become a TV anchor focus on?
I think the key skill should be the quality to communicate easily. I mean ultimately you have to be someone who likes to communicate efficiently and has the confidence to deliver. According to me, confidence is very important.
You are among one of those Indian Journalists who are targeted by trolls on Social Media. So how do you handle this?
See, in the beginning I was very disturbed by it. But now I consider it as a part of the job. I don’t think one should get too carried away by it. Social media lives in its own universe. I don’t think you can allow it to have an impact on your life. Because ultimately you have to be judged by your peers and people around you and not by people who don’t know you. I do believe that social media has an important role to play in creating a sense of instant communication and with one click you can interact with thousands of people. That is its advantage, there is instant communication with social media. But I think the power of social media is being misused to have these targeted campaigns and that is unfortunate.
What are its solution in your opinion, sir?
I will not say a total control, but solution has to be some form of regulation by Twitter/Facebook itself. They should see that they don’t allow their medium to be misused by others; the same law which applies to other forms of media i.e. ID (identification) should also be applied to social media. If you say something defamatory on TV you can be sued, so, why can’t one be sued on social media?
Have you ever been threatened to do or not to do any story?
Yes, that has happened. But I will not go into that. But it has happened. That is also a part of our occupation.
Difference between Hindi and English journalism?
I think English journalism is cut off from the grassroots sometimes whereas Hindi journalism is able to raise the public issues more easily. However, in recent years, Hindi journalism too has developed the trend of sensationalizing, similar to English journalism. In some cases it even exceeds its English counterpart.
And sometimes Hindi journalism focuses more on trivial subjects. I do not see the issue of environment, science technology, education or health on Hindi news channels.
On the gap in salary issue, I would say that there was a disparity twenty years ago which is gradually decreasing.
How much scope does the broadcasting news have in terms of reporting or investigative journalism?
Very less. Everything is being run from the studio.
So, what would you say to a student who is dreaming to become a TV reporter?
Well, do something else! (laughs)
In today’s world, due to the format of television, everything is being run through the studio. What would be the incentive for a youngster until the format doesn’t change? I want youngsters to report. I want efficient reporting to take place. But I see that most of the channels work form the studio only.
What would you say to those who want to join this field for money and glamour?
I think you should not step into this field for glamour or money. Join only if you are truly passionate about journalism and news. For glamour one should become a Bollywood star and not a TV news star.
In your view, what is practical journalism in India?
In my view practical journalism in India should be the journalism that tells the stories of the people of India. The news that comes from small towns and cities. That should be real journalism. Real journalism should tell the stories of people, not a politician. We spend more time on the politicians and less time on people.
In one of your letters, you wrote, “Good journalism makes a genuine difference to the world by offering a mirror to society”. But nowadays certain media houses act like a government machinery…
Of course. This is the most unfortunate thing that instead of making governments accountable we continue to side with the government.
So what would be your message to viewers of those media houses?
Now, who can stop the viewers? The person holding the TV remote will decide by themselves.
Nowadays we don’t see news channels for news. We watch it for devotion. And if you see news channels as a devotee or as an idolater, it will happen. But, I want people to give importance to news and not the individual. They should watch news for the sake of the issue and not for the sake of the person associated.
I want people to understand the importance of news and not an individual’s political or social importance.
What is the difference between being a Bollywood star and a star anchor?
Hey, there’s a lot of difference. Bollywood stars are millionaires. They are very big men. They have thousands of fans. And no one should become a fan of a journalist. Be a fan of a movie star or a cricketer but not of a journalist. Journalists are observers.
Which is your favorite place to travel?
I love travelling in Goa.
Have you ever thought of retiring from journalism?
I often think that I should write books instead of continuing journalism. I want to do something different than this twenty four hour cycle. It’s not that I am thinking of leaving this field, maybe I’m just thinking of a break. I just want to write books or do something else. I’m currently writing a book and this gives me a lot of satisfaction.
What would be your message to students across India?
Follow your dreams, and whatever you do, do it with passion and integrity.
This interview is taken by @alokanand & edited by Aakansha. To suggest an interview, feedbacks, comments you can write at firstname.lastname@example.org
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