Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed - Journalism in Asia Today
What is your day-to-day task in your publication/organisation?
In my role as Senior Assistant Editor based in Bengaluru (Bangalore), I am responsible for reporting from the south Indian province of Karnataka for Frontline, a fortnightly news magazine in India. In my role, I have to track a variety of events as they happen in Karnataka and report about it. As I write for a news magazine and since it is fortnightly, this means that my canvas is very broad and this is evident in the diversity of themes that I write about. My articles are usually long form, meaning they are between 2000 and 5000 words long and have a lengthened shelf life.
What is the greatest challenge in journalism today in this region?
In India, the greatest challenge to journalism is that the traditional role that the media has placed – that of a watchdog of government activity and processes – is being stifled slowly. India has had a culture of a robust and free media but under the present dispensation, this role is being scrutinised carefully, as a section of the media is perceived to not be in favour of the 'national interest' as narrowly defined by the current Bharatiya Janata Party led party that is in power at the centre. This has led to dissenting journalists being threatened and in a few extreme cases, even shot dead.
How important is journalism in Asia?
Countries in Asia have developed in an unequal manner meaning that while some countries have made great economic advances, others still languish among the bottom few countries of the world as far as human development indices go. In such a scenario, it is important that journalists play their traditional role of watching out for inadequacies in government policy that will help in the overall advancement of their country's population and thus, of Asia. That is why journalism is very important in Asia.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learn from another journalist in Asia?
When I was a fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship, I learnt that my journalist colleagues from Southeast Asia and China have to deal with severe restrictions imposed by the state. As I have reported only from India, this was new for me. I learnt how my colleagues from these parts of Asia with authoritarian governments manage to do great reporting even though their work is constantly monitored. These are brave people and I learnt this value from them.
What do you think is the most important issue/story in your country/region?
The Indian population scores very low on all human development indices. Journalists in India have a responsibility to consistently point out the deficiencies and failures of government policy in alleviating the condition of the Indian people. Apart from this, there is an increased threat of Hindutva (an extremist Hindu ideology that has a separate identity from Hinduism) overwhelming the discourse of the Indian state. The primordial ideology of Hindutva does not consider non-Hindus (religious minorities) equal citizens of the country. This has led to Muslims being lynched across the country over the past few years in a series of hate crimes. Journalists have a role in constantly pointing out the deep problems that Hindutva represents in a diverse country like India.
What are you most optimistic about as a journalist in Asia?
I can't really comment about Asia. I will respond to this question as an Indian journalist: I am optimistic about the quality of rigorous journalism that a lot of Indian journalists do even though there is serious opposition from a variety of powerful forces. There is also a profound culture of debate among Indian people and they have symbiotic engagement with the media through which they frame these debates. I am also optimistic about the future of print media in India. Even though the growth of digital media has disrupted the traditional role of newspapers and news magazines, the situation is not as dire as it is in other parts of the world. India still has a vast population that is first generation literate which means that there is a thriving culture of reading newspapers among even young people here.
Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed (India) is based in Bengaluru (Bangalore) and works as a journalist with Frontline, a fortnightly news magazine published in India. He has an eclectic reporting portfolio and writes long-form stories on a variety of themes. He has degrees in history from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, and the University of Oxford.
Journalism in Asia is a collection of portraits and interviews from influential journalists in Asia presented every Monday morning.