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Finding her niche

 

AGNIBESH DAS | New Delhi, March 23, 2012 16:35
Tags : Media watch | consulting editor Coomi Kapoor |
 

Finding her nicheAs Coomi Kapoor offers us tea at her east Nizamuddin flat, she looks more like an affable housewife than a veteran political journalist. The other striking aspect about her personality is her humility. “I’m not important enough to be interviewed,” she says smiling sheepishly. Her CV begs to differ. She has held top positions in respected publications like India Today, Sunday Mail, Indian Post, Illustrated Weekly and The Indian Express where she still is working.

Coomi was the first woman chief reporter of a mainline newspaper in the country. Asked about male antagonism and hostility when she first joined the profession as one of the very few women to enter the field she said, “I started in a newspaper called the Motherland. That was a very small publication and there were not enough people. So I had to cover practically everything. When I went to Express, I found there were not many women around and those who were there were kept away from the hard news beats on the grounds that being women they would not be able to do night shifts. They were mostly asked to cover the flower shows or the features sections. I realised I was never going to get anywhere like that,” she said.

“At Express they asked me if I could take the late shifts. They were a bit taken aback when I said I could. The other girl who was there didn’t like my attitude very much either. But having worked those shifts for the Motherland, I really had no problem. Once I began to prove myself to be equally capable as my male colleagues, the antagonism slowly went off,” she added.

Yet it could not have been easy as a woman, I prodded her.

“Oh no it wasn’t. The pay was very low. We were paid pittance, most of which went in travelling. Delhi in those times did not have a very good public transportation system and we couldn’t afford cars. Coming home late at night used to be quite a problem. Then there were also not so many job opportunities around. There were only a few publications and TV was the monopoly of Doordarshan. So one had to really stick to it,” she explained.

She agrees that with the advent of TV, journalism has been easier for women. “Previously, there were practically no women editors. The few that were there were mostly owners. That has changed drastically and you now have people like Barkha Dutt who are calling the shots. In a way I feel that TV has really broken the barrier,” she said.

Despite obviously enjoying her job, Coomi said that it did put a pressure on family life. “It is the hours of work you put in as a journalist that builds pressure on family life. My children never had my company during the evenings. Fortunately I lived very close to my place of work and could spend some time with them in the morning, but it was quite a tough balancing act.”

In her long career, Coomi feels the most exciting days were the post Emergency days. “During the Emergency things were very difficult. There was no direct censorship but there was this vague fear of writing against the government’s policies. My husband got arrested and Express nearly shut down. The government did its best to stop us. We did not know when the electricity would be gone or the paper sealed. We had a wonderful owner in Ramnath Goenka who went to court each time something like that happened.”

After the Emergency, the scenario that had remained static for so long suddenly got very lively. Lots of political scams, conspiracy, upheavals kept happening.

It was a very challenging time to be a reporter. That sense of fear has gone then. One of the reasons for that is, with TV and the Internet and so many publications, it gets very difficult to keep something hidden for a long time. There is always a someone who is willing to break the news. If ten people reject you there’s always the eleventh one.”
But hasn’t the proliferation of the media also led to irresponsibility, I asked.

“Yes it has, but that can never be a long term plan for any media house,” she replied. “You see, when you give out incorrect information, you sacrifice your biggest asset – your credibility. If that gets questioned too often, you will not survive as a media house.”

My question on press censorship is met with a snappy reply. “It is absolutely impractical. Even if they wanted to, how would they keep in check such a huge number of outlets of public opinion? Plus, the free media is one of our biggest assets unlike some of our neighbours.”

I asked her about the dynastic politics of the Congress party and she replied, “It has always been like this. They always had this dynastic model. But it is not going to work. The UP assembly elections seem to prove this point. In India, you have to prove your worth.”

Her message to young aspiring journalists is:  “Just be true to your conscience and don’t give in to sensationalism in order to get noticed.”

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017