TV Journalism: Then and Now; In conversation with Maya Sharma5 min read
Maya Sharma can only be described as vivacious, charming and easy to talk to. She has a funny anecdote to illustrate almost every point of hers. From amongst the very first batch of trained TV journalists, she is now the Resident Editor of NDTV Bangalore. She waves her hands about expressively, talking nineteen to the dozen, as she sits down for an exclusive interview with TMJ:
What was it like venturing into this completely new profession 25 years ago?
It was very exciting back then because we were a part of the very first batch of trained television journalists in India. Until then, it was just Doordarshan – anchors reading out the news over pictures, and not terribly objective in the sense that Doordarshan was a government channel. So it was supremely exciting, and nobody knew what they were doing but, we figured it out as we went along. We were making the first mistakes and also the first achievements. I’m very glad to have been a part of all those milestones.
How do you feel the industry has grown?
Multiplication of channels, and the entry of the private media into spaces has rendered them more open, it’s definitely not just government voices only. But there’s also a lot more noise, because anyone can voice their opinion. Also, because of the competition, it is so volatile. What it is today, a year later it won’t be the same.
As a woman journalist having entered a completely new field, what were the challenges you faced back then?
I think it sometimes comes down to family as well, and luckily in my family there is no question of what gender you are, you do what you need to do. But I feel safety is such a huge issue, and naturally my mother would be very concerned, especially during those days before the mobile phone. I think there is also the toilet issue; people don’t seem to realize that women need to relieve themselves. Men will just disappear behind a bush.
Also, when there is a crowd, Indian men are very predictable. There is a lot of groping and touching, but I don’t think that’s specific to the profession. As a TV journalist, I think there are challenges with timing, we could be out at any time. But being part of a team in TV journalism helps out, like having my trusted cameraman and driver.
You’ve come down to Mangalore thrice now – and all of them for negative stories. The Manipal rape incident, the moral policing in pubs story, and the attack on students in the home stay. How do you feel about the trend of bad news making breaking news?
I think that’s always been there, the wrong is always the first to be highlighted. In fact, we at NDTV wanted to launch a show called Good News, where everyone would be sent out to do positive stories. But these stories never get sponsors. What’s the first headline of the day going to be? Definitely not anything good. Bad news is what makes the news. However, I do think there is scope for positivity. Otherwise people just tend to give up. I see a lot of people saying they don’t read the newspapers anymore because it is depressing. Having said that though, I think it is essential to cover the bad news, because it makes people aware, and there is a hope for changes being made.
As someone who has been stationed mostly in the South, have you noticed if there is a different approach to how news is covered across different zones in the country?
I think right now, most national channels focus on Delhi. The same incident elsewhere doesn’t carry the same weight, which is unfortunate, it is something we reporters are constantly fighting about, and it is an ongoing battle. It is strange, because most of the news viewership is in the South. So we do our stories, we cover the news from the South, but it may not make it to prime time on air.
During the early days of your career, you covered the election results with Prannoy Roy. How do you think the media coverage of the elections has changed over the years?
I think there have been two major changes – one is that it used to take three days for the election results to come out, because they would manually count each vote. We would be awake for almost 36 hours at a stretch. The introduction of the electronic system has made things faster and cut down the drama.
The second change is that the elections have become more studio centric. Before, they would cut across to the reporters to find out what was happening on the ground, and now everybody just goes to a studio in Delhi. Moreover, probably because so many channels are fighting for coverage of various political leaders, it has become much more difficult.
What do you notice that is different between protests staged and covered in India and abroad, given that you did a story on the Wall Street protests?
I think one of the things that stood out for me, was how polite the policemen were. They were very courteous and professional, even while asking people to move along. The second glaring difference I noticed was the number of people protesting there – maybe two hundred – very different from the vast numbers in India. It is usually chaos over here, for better or for worse.
One story you particularly wanted to cover but couldn’t, for whatever reason?
There was some hesitation to let me go out and cover stories during the Rajkumar crisis, but otherwise I would say that the disappointment for me comes not when I’m not allowed to do a story, but when I can, and it doesn’t go on air. You’ve done the story, you love it, you know it’s good, but there will be an interview with some big Delhi politician that will be aired instead. One of the biggest challenges is to convince people within your own organization to use your story. To use it well, on prime time. It is a challenge you don’t anticipate.
Sub-edited by Manasi Srivathsan