Even at 78, Sir Mark Tully, former bureau chief of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), New Delhi is as keen about the developments in the country as ever. He believes it is high time India stops the debate on communalism and concentrate on real issues.
A Kolkata born British citizen, he is one of the rare individuals to have received the country’s highest honour, Padma Bhushan. With an illustrious career at BBC to boot that has spanned over 30 years in which he covered landmark events like Operation Bluestar, Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Indo-Pakistan conflicts in the history of the country, he remains unstoppable.
In an exclusive conversation with City Express, Sir Mark opened up about issues close to his heart- spirituality, concept of Karma, ethics, today’s journalism and his advice to young aspiring journalists.
The renowned journalist says he prefers a cup of tea, BBC radio and a newspaper to start his day.
He was in the city to deliver the fourth Professor EG Parameswaran Endowment Lecture on ‘The Way Forward for India’ organised by Pragna Bharathi.
These are some of the excerpts from the interview:
Q) When you were at the helm of affairs, you covered important landmarks in the Indian history post Independence, also at a time when 24*7 news channels were not part of our lives. How has things changed since 1994(when you resigned from BBC) in Indian media according to you?
A) Things have changed greatly. Back then, only Doordarshan and All India Radio were available and people knew that it was the sarkari news. In villages, in large numbers, they used to listen to BBC news and that too sabse pehle. We were in a privileged position but today, with the kind of electronic media you have, foreign broadcasters are in a weaker position. With so much competition between channels and this breaking news phenomenon, there is a temptation sometimes for people to take shortcuts and speculate unwisely. It is a very dangerous thing to do. I keep saying that when you are breaking news, especially in electronic media, you need to have a very strong editorial presence. You need to have someone in the newsroom watching the output, correcting it and convey it to the reporter or presenter without making a judgment or speculating anything.
Q) Do you think newspapers are slowly dying with the growing reach of internet?
A) I think, because of Internet, journalism has become even more important today. News on the net is not credited or certified. So, what you need is, to have credible news in newspapers. Liability virtue, truthfulness and accuracy are more important for newspapers than ever before.
Q) What do you think is the way forward for newspapers especially at a time, when they have to compete with the news channels?
A) They do not have to follow the channels. They just have to be very careful because the reason they survive is because of being credible. One of the ways, newspapers in Britain are trying to remain in business is by providing much more background information than the electronic media or internet does. People read newspapers for analytical reporting today but too much of that may become boring.
Q) How different is Indian media from the international media? Do you think we lag behind anywhere?
A) Indian media is on the whole doing a great deal to preserve the open nature of the country. I think your television is not as professional as in terms of some other countries. Too many discussion based programs and not enough straight forward stories. But, you do not have to necessarily follow the western media. As I always say, everything in India has to be designed for India.
Q) We have educated journalists but do you think it is necessary to have a journalism degree to be a qualified journalist?
A) I am not a qualified journalist. Perhaps, I would have been a better journalist had I gone to a journalism school (laughs). I certainly think that by just going to a journalism school one does not make a good journalist. Experience and learning from experience is very important.
Q) What would be your advice to young aspiring journalists? Are they required to be mobile encyclopedia?
A) Do not think you know everything just because you went to a journalism school. Do not forget, in journalism or any other profession, a good professional never finishes learning. Well, one should never pretend to be a mobile encyclopedia. Some people think, they know an awful lot about an awful little or an awful little about an awful lot. People sometimes have very unrealistic expectations of us. Journalists should realize that it is not their story but story of the person they are reporting about that is most important.
Q)You are a great subscriber of the concept of Karma. Are you very spiritual? How do you think is spirituality helpful in maintaining ethics in journalism?
A) I would not say I am very spiritual, but I am interested in religion. I am a believer and I do find the concept of Karma very important and helpful. People think they are themselves responsible for their achievements where as so much is based on fate. Luck plays a very important role in our lives and this is all in the sense of Karma to me. Ethics are important from a religious point of view. And it is important to acknowledge that we do not necessarily live up to the highest standards of ethics of what we talk of religion. It is important to remain humble and accept your ethical failures and keep your ego in control.
Q) Do you think a journalist needs to be a nationalist?
A) In certain limits, nationalism or patriotism is good. One of the jobs of a journalist is to point out what is going wrong in the country and if you do not do that, you are not being a nationalist and you are not helping your country to improve.
Q)You left BBC at a very controversial note. Any regrets?
A) I quit because I made a speech attacking the director general saying that he was denigrating the organization. He was concentrating excessively on business practices and management theories and forgetting that BBC is a creative organization. He was creating a revolution and I believed in evolution. I would have liked to go out in a more friendly way. I certainly miss the friendship and companionship of BBC.
Q) What is the way forward for India at this junction when one of the major parties struggle with their communal background where as the other is neck deep in corruption charges?
A) I think the communal vs secular issue can be buried now. You cannot write off BJP as non corrupt and at the same time write off Congress as secular. I would hope that the BJP will continue to move, as it has always done, to be right wing or central right and congress can identify itself as more left of BJP. Both can stop this communal debate. I think, it is so contrary to India’s spirits. Indian culture is anything but communal. It is also because so much goes into the debate that you do not concentrate on the real important issues.