Vinod Mehta: I just want to fade away quietly (Text + Video interview)

15 Nov,2011

 

 

This interview with Vinod Mehta was conducted in November 2011 soon after the launch of ‘Lucknow Boy’. As we look at the late Editor’s life and times, we replay this interview – in text and video – which so effectively captures what made him such a great journalist. Read on…

 

 

By Shruti Pushkarna

 

Soon after he launched his memoirs ‘Lucknow Boy’ in the capital, MxM India caught up with Mr Vinod Mehta, Editor-in-Chief of Outlook magazine, for an exclusive interaction in his Delhi office. He spoke at length about his memoirs, his editorial journey and of course, his dog, Editor.

Prior to his memoirs, Mr Mehta has also authored biographies of Sanjay Gandhi and Meena Kumari. In 2001, he also published a collection of his articles under the title, ‘Mr Editor, How Close Are You to the PM?’

Popularly referred to as ‘one of the most independent editors’ of our times, Mr Mehta has founded and edited numerous publications, including The Indian Post, The Independent, the Delhi edition of The Pioneer and also India’s first Sunday paper, the Sunday Observer. At present he is the Editor-in-Chief of the Outlook Group, which brings out ten magazines including the weekly newsmagazine Outlook.

Q: Tell us a little about your memoirs.

It’s not just my life that I am presenting; it’s a snapshot of India from 1974 when I started, to 2011 which is now. And I am giving you a kind of history of India from that period, a personal history as I have seen it. So it’s more than my life, it’s a history of India – and whether they agree with my version of history or not, that’s another point but I have tried to present people, places, incidents that I saw and I interacted with since 1974. In that sense, this is not just about a journalist writing about his life, it’s about a very important period of India’s history which should be remembered, and I hope that I got some of it right.

Q: Why Lucknow Boy? You’ve always prided yourself as a Bombay Boy…

No, I was born in Lucknow, and studied in Lucknow and I reached Bombay much later. So I called it ‘Lucknow Boy’ because I am, my education etc. was all in Lukcnow.

Q: Was it tough writing a free-and-fearless memoir? Especially the admission about your daughter?

Well, these things are never easy but if you’re writing a memoir then you have to tell the story of your life and you must tell it in its entirety, the good and the bad. So you can’t hold anything back, otherwise it’s half the story.

Q: Anything that you’ve not mentioned in your memoirs? In hindsight, would you have liked to include anything?

No, no; I made sure that everything that I wanted to put in my memoirs, I did put in my memoirs. There were so many other things which were not important, the more important things I’ve put in my memoirs.

Q: Given that you had moved jobs rapidly before Outlook, what’s the secret of your lasting so long with the Rajan Raheja group?

Well, I’ve been here for 17 years and I think the mean reason is the fact that I got the kind of editorial freedom which I didn’t get elsewhere, so I lasted so long – because I was allowed to do my work, and I was allowed to produce a magazine according to what I thought was right, and what my colleagues on the staff thought was right, and there was very little or almost no interference from the proprietors.

Q: We missed you at the World Magazine Congress. Why were you not there?

Well, I am told the magazine congress was mostly about the management side of things and not editorial, but I wasn’t invited.

Q: If given the opportunity, would you like to edit a daily newspaper again?

No, I’m too old now. I’ve done three daily newspapers and now I don’t want to do anything new. I’ve reached the end of my career so I just want to fade away quietly.

Q: Wouldn’t it have been good to have an Outlook current affairs programme for television, if not a full-blown channel?

No, we thought about this many times in Outlook and nobody in Outlook, including the proprietor, was very interested in television, simply because there were so many other… there are already about 300 news channels. So we felt that we couldn’t provide anything new or different and we were quite happy with print. And since I’m mostly interested in print, I didn’t show any great interest, neither did the owners, to get into television.

Q: Your word of advice to a wannabe media baron?

Well, my advice to a new media baron would be – don’t get into this business if you are just interested in making money. This is a business where, of course, profits are important but this goes beyond profits. So if you have any kind of commitment to the country and if you can withstand occasionally some kind of losses even to your investment, then get into the business. But if you are getting into the business because you think there are profits, or you think that you will have great political clout in the government etc, then those are all the wrong reasons for getting into publishing.

Q: And your advice to someone working with a wannabe media baron?

Be good at your job, that’s very important. Whatever you do, you must be very good at your job, outstanding at your job; therefore if you are outstanding at whatever you do, if you are sub-editor, or a correspondent or a photographer, if you are outstanding in your job, somebody somewhere will always hire you.

Q: Debonair is dead. Would you like to revive it?

No, that was just the beginning of my career and I wouldn’t like to go back there. But the seven-eight years that I spent there were very interesting, and I learnt a lot in that period.

Q: Back to the book: worried about it upsetting anyone? Vijaypat Singhania?

I don’t think so, because I’ve been fair to everybody. In his case, he was also under a lot of political pressure so I had full sympathy for his situation, where between Indian Post and his own business interests, he couldn’t sacrifice his entire business interest because at that time you had this license permit raj and the government would be active in economic affairs.

Q: Did you read those barons wrong… Singhania and Thapar especially? And Ambani and the Jains?

No, I didn’t read them wrong because they also I suppose, did not realize how difficult it is to be a media baron at that time, I am talking of 1980s and 90s, when businessmen who had say 5 percent interest in publishing and 95 percent interest in other things. If they attacked the government, then their other business interests would suffer, and I don’t think they fully appreciated this.

Q: Any career regrets?

Oh, I think there are always some regrets, some things that you should have done and you didn’t do. But by and large, I think I have played it by the book, as I say. I have no regrets. I think life has been very fair with me.

Q: Do you think the news TV folk sensationalize more than inform?

Yes, I think there is some need for self-regulation, there is some need for accountability. You can’t have a free-for-all as far as the channels are concerned. And I think most channels now are realizing that they are losing public support; the most important thing is their viewers’ support and therefore they need some professional guidelines. There is that appreciation now and I think that in the next few months, you will see something, some self-regulation.

Q: We know you don’t agree with this, but still: do you think news only constitutes current affairs and matters of national importance?  For instance, would current affairs only mean political news or also whom Ranbir Kapoor is dating?

No, I think current affairs is current affairs, anything which is current, for example, film stars, Aamir Khan made a film called Peepli Live , that was very much part of news. Entertainment is part of news, entertainment and news are not separate, but I think that there is a place for everything. Entertainment has a place, national politics has a place, everything has a place. So you must find the right balance I think; that’s the job of an editor.

Q: Is there a need for a Press Council-like body, or should the print media too have a NBSA- like self-regulator?

Well, we do have a Press Council but I think even the print media now realizes that the Press Council doesn’t have any teeth, doesn’t have any punitive powers. So, there is some need even in the print media for a new set of guidelines.

Q: Your dog is called Editor. If you had another dog, what would you call it?

Editor Junior. Well I have already got Editor Senior so I got Editor Junior now. But I can’t keep another… We tried to keep another dog, my wife was very keen that we should have two dogs. But Editor wouldn’t just allow another dog to come in. So we tried once or twice, actually brought a dog into the house but he made life hell for that dog, so we finally had to give him away to somebody because he is very possessive and he likes 24/7 attention.

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One response to “Vinod Mehta: I just want to fade away quietly (Text + Video interview)”

  1. Rahul Kishore says:

    Great article Shruti..well done!

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