Atul Chaurasia is a renowned Hindi language journalist. During his 1.5-decade career as a journalist, he has served in – print, digital and television – all three media. He was also editor-in-chief of Tehelka Hindi magazine and the Hindi news site known as Catch News. Currently, he is the editor of newslaundary.com, which critically examines and exposes weak points in the media industry. Every Wednesday, he hosts a unique video show called “Tippani”, which has risen to prominence for his visual satire, with a combination of light humor, sharp analysis and well-articulated commentary. In a conversation with the “VarthaBharati” here, he spoke about the powerlessness of the media in India and answered questions regarding solutions to the problem.
You were an award-winning mainstream journalist before joining NL. You have worked in print, digital and television media before. What triggered this change? Tell us about your transition to this new / alternative medium.
I was editor-in-chief of Tehelka Hindi magazine, after which I joined Catch News. It was a very conscious decision to switch from paper to digital; because the media landscape has changed rapidly over the past decade. It was important for me to be aware of the latest media trends. At that time, I also believed that digital would be the future of media.
My two-year long television career was short-lived as I quickly realized that television was not for me, given my interests and abilities.
Your Tippani program is one of a kind that has satire, sharp analysis, and commentary. Tell us how this program evolved? What was the idea behind it all?
The idea behind Tippani was very simple. We at Newslaundry had been planning a Hindi show for some time. But we didn’t want to create just another show on the mill’s Youtube show. We decided to go for something that was deeply ingrained in a familiar, rustic language of the heart with satirical and political overtones. Also, its treatment – the black and white texture – gives the show a unique identity.
Recent developments that have effectively exposed Godi Media, its anchors and their credibility. But he’s still hugely successful and people seem to believe them. Will that ever change?
The huge popularity – and the number of fans – of mainstream TV presenters is due to the media. Television is a very powerful medium. These anchors, who for the most part play the role of watchdogs of the ruling forces, only use the power of the medium to achieve their personal and political goals.
The only reason a layman trusts a TV presenter is his faith in journalism; a faith that took a long time to develop. Something organized over such a long period of time will not be lost immediately. As for your concern to change the current scenario, I would say that is the policy today. Once the policy changes, the TV media scenario will also change in tandem.
There is a feeling that your type of journalism only reaches the educated, elite, intellectual class and the general public is always behind the TV stations that spread lies and hate. Do you agree?
Yes I agree. But I don’t think it’s a bad strategy. Even if you manage to convince – or get the agreement of – this small segment of influential and educated people, you will win half the battle. The rest of society actually looks to this influential segment for leadership and direction.
There is also a perception that the general public is only interested in onward WhatsApp programs, screaming TV channels, and no longer cares about quality journalism. Is it correct ? If so, what is the solution?
No, this is not quite correct. Generally, most people believe in WhatsApp transfers, shouting shows on TV just because they have this option readily available. Moreover, the lack of media education in our country is another reason why the general public is drawn to this disinformation disseminated via the airwaves or “TV channel cries”. We need multidirectional corrections to deal with it.
The type of degradation seen in the Indian media since 2013 is now continuing at a steady pace. Where do you think this will end up happening? Where did it take the Indians? How and when can this be remedied?
Partly, I agree with the claim that media degradation is rapid, but I can’t say where it will take us. I just hope for a positive ending.
Why has the Indian media become so superficial so suddenly? Was it just the money that caused this? What is the fundamental problem that triggered this fall?
The income model is the most important cause. This advertising-based revenue model leaves news houses vulnerable to government and big business. It is very easy for stakeholders to turn their backs on the media houses as they depend on sponsors for their income.
Other causes of this rapid downfall are community flaws, such as the inherent communitarianism among presenters and reporters, the short-lived attitude of management, etc.
The Netherlands are targeted for their journalism through business, youtube restrictions etc. How are you going to fight this?
We are not doing anything illegal. Journalism is not a crime. If anything comes our way, we will fight it legally. India has a strong judicial system and we have full confidence in it.
Do you think there is a need for an alternative and independent platform like youtube, FB for objective journalists and media houses? is it technically and financially possible to build such a platform which is totally free from political and other pressures?
Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to build such a huge alternative platform. Only government or big business can do it. Also, it is not possible to establish something like this on a community basis. Instead, the focus should be on reforms and their accountability to existing platforms.
Despite calling them out to support hate programs on TV channels, companies don’t seem to stop advertising with them. Is it possible to persuade them to show discretion and to link their advertising policy to social responsibilities and certain fundamental Human and Democratic values?
At Newslaundry, we have tried to promote such programs so that sponsors can be aware and make the right decision before sponsoring any content. Although it is not 100 percent effective, it is slowly gaining ground.
Some sponsors are canceling their agreements. More than canceling the deal, it will work as a deterrent.
Is it really possible to run a press house like NL just from subscriptions? What was your experience?
The story of Newslaundry is before anyone else. Subscription is the future of media. Advertising-free media are the only way to do public service journalism.
Do you think that such experiences (NL) are sustainable in the long term?
There is a huge community of readers who enjoy your content everyday without paying a dime in return. How to develop the culture of paid information in a society like India?
We have a three layer funnel system. The content that you see available to everyone is the top funnel. We expect some people to filter from the upper funnel to the lower funnel, and those people will pay. Once they do, they will get premium content.
Do you think young people entering journalism understand the emptiness and dangers of Godi Media or are they drawn to the money and fame they can get? What do you expect from them?
There are good people who enter the media with good intentions. The market is the great leveler. In the end, few good people will ever survive.
What is your message to Indian readers and viewers?
Always use critical thinking.
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