P.P Wangchuk, the first Buddhist journalist of a national daily in India, graduated from Panjab University in mass communication in 1980. Soon after his internship with National Herald, New Delhi, he was offered the job of a sub-editor by the patriarch of Indian journalism, Khushwant Singh, the then Editor of the Hindustan Times. Since then Wangchuk has occupied various senior positions in the Hindustan Times: News Editor, Economic Editor, Edit Page Editor under the editorship of H K Dua, presently MP and formerly Advisor to PM. Presently, Wangchuk is Coordinating Editor, Hindustan Times.
Wangchuk was born to very humble parents in the tiny but beautiful village of Phey on the Indus in Leh. It was here that he completed his primary education and then shifted to Leh city for his school education. He recalls very fondly about his first ‘contact’ with the ‘outside world’. It so happened that his father bought for him a Philips transistor, thinking that he would be better off with “a little bit of contact with the rest of the world”. This was a great present and it also happened to be the first transistor in the village. But the villagers, particularly the neighbours, were shocked and said, “the child will now stop studies and be spoiled.”
Looking back, Wangchuk says that even though he found it very difficult to understand English news bulletins, yet he would rabidly listen to all English news broadcasts meticulously. It took him several months before he could make some sense of the bulletins. He says the transistor was one of the greatest external factors that influenced the young mind in him. And perhaps also sowed the “seeds of journalism” in his fertile mind!
Favourite quote: Given the will and hard work, there is nothing that is impossible.
Q. Will you describe how and why you got into journalism. What did you want to do initially and why?
When I thought of getting into journalism, it was with the idea that it could be a means to an end and not an end in itself. That is to say, it was never my idea to be a journalist for life. My first “love” was politics and, second, public administration and, third, engineering. And, to begin with, I would have landed up as an engineer as physics as a subject was my forte. I loved this subject and it was my Bible, clear and closest to my heart. But some of my professors and well-wishers wanted me to get into a course that would keep all options open after graduation. And that jelled with the dynamics of my thoughts and wishes.
Journalism is for those who have the passion for writing and leave an impact on society at large, and make a difference in the quality and standard of living conditions of people. In a way, it can be described as a missionary role to “unsettle” the “unchanging dynamics of societal levers”.
Today, journalism, particularly electronic journalism, has a great role to play in society. No government or any other kind of establishment can serve at its best without the media as a ‘watch dog’ to keep snooping over its functioning. All great changes and even revolutions today are happening because of media. Just one example: Indira Gandhi had a mighty fall because of her gag on media. She could not get to understand the reality on the ground because of a ‘muzzled” media.
Q. In your recent article in Reach Ladakh, titled ‘Ladakh needs a newspaper with missionary zeal’, you have talked about Ladakh needing, “young journalists with Gandhian thoughts and zeal.” Could you elaborate on it?
Media, except the so-called national media, is not in a position to reward journalists with handsome salaries and bonuses. But money is not all that matters for many of us; what matters is the need to be able to do something that will unshackle a lethargic establishment and awaken it out of its deep slumber. A journalist with a missionary zeal has to have “minimum needs and maximum output” in order to bring in the change that makes a difference. Seeing things changing for the better could be more rewarding and satisfying than getting fat salaries and bonuses.
Q. What are your future plans? Have you ever thought of coming back to Ladakh and contribute to Ladakh media?
Another few years and then, if all goes well, I will get into research and writing as my main occupation. Besides, off and on, I plan to resume lecturing in some of the universities I used to visit in my younger days.
As for my Ladakh ‘mission’, I plan to spend a few months every year after my retirement from the present establishment I am working for. Those months will be spent on research on Ladakh affairs; and that will be a part of media publication as well as books. In other words, anything that I would be working on would be media-related.
Q. Why journalists in Ladakh are not treated the way they should be treated? What do you think of the right of a journalist?
To be frank, I do not know how journalists are being “treated” in Ladakh. To be frank again, I must say a journalist should have no airs and be solely satisfied with his/her work. True, as Gandhi said, nobody can work on a hungry stomach, a journalist has the right to have his basic needs met. Beyond that, a journalist should be happy that he/she is doing one of the finest jobs of enlightening the society at large to make them see their rights and obligations. And, to go a little further on the rights of a journalist, he/she should have unfettered means to watch and report on what the public and the establishment needs to know and take care of for the good of all.
Q. What is your take on the issue of not having a Press gallery for media in Ladakh in many events?
The media should have a ‘reserved for media’ section at all functions and gatherings. Without that, the media can’t fulfil its duty properly. One way is to ‘wake up’ the organisers of functions and events on the need to provide such facilities “for their own good”.
Q. Do you think students of mass communication have little scope in Ladakh?
Yes, very true, mass communication students have very little scope, particularly for the ambitious and the bold. Such aspirants should branch out to other parts of the country to meet their requirements. It is a perversion of truth to say that one can serve Ladakh only by being rooted in Ladakh. Nothing can be more farcical. One must always remember that given the will and the zeal, one can work for Ladakh from any corner of the planet.
Q. Do you agree that print media is not being able to sustain itself in Ladakh? What are the reasons?
Print media has to work under severe constraints in Ladakh. You don’t have a good and viable readership because of illiteracy and several other reasons. One of these “several others” could be the lack of means to make a journal financially viable. Any daily/ weekly/ fortnightly etc can have its lifeline intact only if it gets adequate revenues from advertisements. And Ladakh media, in the absence of industrial houses and also because of the lack of govt ads, has to suffer this handicap.
Q. Do you think low readership is also a reason for the shutdown of most newspapers in Ladakh?
What is a journal without readership? Low readership means low advertisement. The very concept of advertisements in newspapers and other media wings is aimed at drawing the attention of the readers towards a product or service. So, no readers, no ads and no money inflow!
Q. Can you suggest three most important ways to strengthen print media in Ladakh?
One, getting more and more people involved in the habit of reading. Two, making business houses, travel agencies and service providers aware of the need to expand their interests through media publicity. And, thirdly, the need to have a group of dedicated journalists to break the initial impossibilities and get seriously entrenched into the business of giving truthful news and views.
Q. What is your message to a budding journalist who wants to pursue a career in media?
Be simple, clear and dedicated. The moment you decide to be a journalist, you have to be brave and bold and have an open mind, always. The path you will tread will be full of thorns and gorges!