Shivang Mathur is a senior journalist with a decade of dynamic experience in the media industry and has worked for prestigious channels like P7 News, Asian News International, Dainik Jagran, News 24, etc. He is an active volunteer in civic causes and was bestowed the Excellence in Journalism Award at the 8th Global Journalism Festival.
The public outcry on nepotism can still be heard. With many actors coming forward to talk about the bias within the film industry, you, yourself, have spoken about some of the eye-opening realities of the media industry. Have you witnessed or been subjected to this bias?
Of course, I’ve witnessed it. We need to understand that nepotism is everywhere. Let’s talk about the film industry first. Everyone is talking about nepotism in Bollywood, but is there any sector where you won’t find nepotism? If a producer has money, he/she will try to launch his son, brother, or nephew. I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing that. Isn’t it possible that the producer or actor finds his son to be the best actor? Who are the biggest stars of Bollywood? Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar. Both of them have not benefited from nepotism and have made a name for themselves by their hard work. We have Om Puri, Anupam Kher, Nawazzudin Siddiqui, and Pankaj Tripathi. All people who have come from non-film backgrounds. I can name a lot of people from Bollywood that have nothing to do with nepotism and have made a mark for themselves. If Zoya Akhtar and Farhan Akhtar are in the industry because of Javed Akhtar, then we shouldn’t forget the struggle Javed Sir had to go through in the 70s in Bombay. The people who have become flag bearers against nepotism should remember that Bollywood gave them a chance to make a name for themselves, which is why they can talk about the issue in the first place.
Coming to the media industry, we need to understand that the situation isn’t different here. Media students should know that while entering the industry after completing a mass communication course, you need an approach to get in. It is not as simple as applying to newspapers and channels and receiving a job offer; you need references, which is why internships are important. I say this after having worked for top news channels of the country that casteism and regionalism are quite prevalent in workspaces.
Even though aspirants give the UPSC exam to work in bureaucracy, you’ll find that a lot of internal politics and nepotism goes into play, especially for promotions.
In the corporate sector, every business or CEO offers work to his/her child or nephew. They try to keep the company in the family even though the best talent, perhaps, is someone who has an MBA degree from an IIM or an engineering degree from an IIT. So, you’ll find nepotism everywhere. Bollywood is a soft target because people can attack it directly. The same goes for the media. We, as a society, have a lot to change and should focus on reforming ourselves before pointing fingers at others.
In the heat of the moment, how do you center yourself before diving in front of the camera?
Education matters a lot. I always tell aspiring journalists that with great power comes great responsibility. It is vital to be well-read as the profession demands it. You never know who you might come across and get a chance to interview. One could be a political reporter, but if he/she meets Sachin Tendulkar on a flight and gets to interview him, he needs to know something about cricket to be able to talk to him. So, presence of mind, common sense, and general knowledge, which has become very rare, is of paramount importance. People have stopped reading since the advent of social media. A journalist who analyzes various issues in depth can never face defeat.
Let me give you an example. A bunch of people from our civil society filed a petition in the Rashtrapati Bhavan to consider the mercy plea against the execution of the death sentence of Yakub Memon, who was involved in the 1993 Bombay blasts. After a meeting at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, his death sentence was set to July 30, 2015. Even though I had no relation to legal journalism, I was to go to Rashtrapati Bhavan for reporting. I had never covered the Supreme Court or any other court for that matter. Neither did I have a lot of information regarding the 1993 blasts. However, I started reporting whatever I had read regarding the bomb blasts, because, as I said, a little common sense and general knowledge goes a long way. After that, the same members of the civil society: lawyers of the Supreme Court, politicians, and celebrities asked for the opening of the Supreme Court. It opened at 2 am and the hearing went on till 4 am. Memon was hanged at 6:30 am. I was on the field the whole night and reported on the Supreme court and Yakub Memon.
The media is an important entity. So, it’s of utmost importance that you don’t blabber and speak nonsense. You need to convey facts very carefully because crores of people are watching you and believing you. It is your responsibility to deliver the correct information. So, navigating chaos comes from experience. The more a reporter reads, the more he/she will be empowered to speak confidently on the spot.
To what degree should the viewers trust the facts portrayed in the news?
Today’s viewers are intelligent; from the moment they switch on their televisions, they know which channel belongs to which party and ideology. In this time and age, audiences have a vast choice. If they feel that something is fishy, there is always the option of switching the channel. I always request people to watch content from various sources. If you are reading newspapers, read multiple newspapers. It broadens your perspective towards a lot of things. You are not doing yourself any favors by consuming content without thinking twice about it.
Choosing what content to watch/read is the right of the viewer/reader. Nobody can force you to read an article or watch a news segment. TRPs of channels come every Thursday. If viewers decide to stop watching the news put up by a channel, they would get to know about it in under a week. You can compel them to show quality content. What happens instead is that we complain to each other about the content but then resort to watching the same content. We love gossip and scandals. People from tier-2 and tier-3 cities watch this news, which gets the news channels good TRPs. So, it does not make a strong case for debate because they have positive results to show.
I was with a private channel a few years back, and I covered stories on science, technology, and health. I made detailed shows on breast, cervical, lung, and mouth cancer. However, the TRPs for the same were very low. In 2005, segments based on shape-shifting snakes(naagins), scorpions, and ghosts were a hit. It will take us time to evolve, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get there.
National Education Policy 2020 aims to provide an interdisciplinary approach to education, yet #RejectNEP has been trending on Twitter. What are your views on the policy?
An education policy called Operation Blackboard was introduced by the 1986 Rajiv Gandhi government under which primary education was to be improved. The foremost question we have right now is whether the national education policy of 2020 will be transformative for the better or not. This policy is skill development-oriented with an innovative approach to create the kind of youth that boasts a skill set but doesn’t chase only after marks. We need to keep the policy’s implementation and implication. However, to this date, there is still an issue with primary education in schools.
We still have 20 years to witness the changes it will bring, one of which could be universities abroad building infrastructure and courses in India so that the students studying abroad can continue their further education here. However, my apprehension concerns autonomous bodies; Inequalities could prevail and create disparities between those who could afford the former and those who couldn’t. A good thing here is the government’s focus on entrepreneurship, which helps rid us of colonial hangover.
Can you tell us about an interview that you reported, which left a significant impact on you?
As a young reporter, I went to Gujarat to cover assembly elections in 2012. Fortunately, I got a chance to interview our Prime Minister, the then Chief Minister of Gujrat, Mr. Narendra Modi. I remember an incident from that time that deeply impact on me. I was an immature reporter. Mr. Modi was on ‘Sadbhavna Yatra’ at the time before the Gujarat elections, and I got a call from his office stating they would give me a chance to interview him during the bus ride. I was elated. During the commute, I prepared a few questions for him related to politics and the problems of the time. He answered the first 5-7 questions very pleasantly with sincerity. But, as I mentioned, I was immature. One learns how to frame and ask questions with time, so I asked the last 2-3 questions very bluntly, and he didn’t answer my questions. The bus stopped, and we got down in a village. All my expectations of getting a picture clicked with him and sharing it on social media ended.
After that incident, I realized that reporters should keep a few things in mind before interviewing someone. One should not ask their questions in such a way that the person sitting in front of you gets hurt because it is plausible that they might end the interview. Secondly, try and develop a rapport with the interviewee. Ask a few questions on topics that he or she would want to discuss and then ask the questions that the person in front of you might not be too willing to answer. Keep in mind that the language you use should be respectful and professional. That was one interview that taught me a lot of things.
What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?
I have observed that everybody wants to be famous and come on TV. There is nothing wrong with wanting that, but to fulfill that wish, you need to work hard and to be conscientious. A lot of years pass before one succeeds in journalism. Your school and college friends already move ahead with their careers. You start questioning yourself when you see their lifestyles, their houses, and their cars.
Journalism is a beautiful profession, and it will give you ample opportunities. During the Uttarakhand forest fires, the Air Force pilots were extinguishing fires with Bambi buckets. I got a chance to go on the chopper with them. Lifetime experiences like these cannot be purchased. I’d advise young people wanting to step into the industry to increase their general knowledge. One of my professors used to say, “There is no use of writing ‘Press’ on your car. When a journalist gets out of their car and talks to someone, he/she should sound like a journalist.”
Journalists get stuck on trivial things, like not paying the parking ticket because they belong to the press. One should avoid getting involved in petty things like that. One of my gurus gave me some advice which resonated with me. He said that we journalists start thinking too big of ourselves because our profession involves meeting and talking to influential personalities. The person sitting inside the AC cabin is the big man, and he knows who you are. You’ll get offended when somebody says something if you try to show your status at places that hold no importance. It’ll hurt your ego. So, study a lot, keep yourself updated, and never think that what you know is sufficient. The biggest mantra to succeed in this industry is to make contacts and behave well.