This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Kanika Katyal. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘Sabki Dhulai’ With Madhu Trehan: Turning The Mirror On The Media

More from Kanika Katyal

By Kanika Katyal for Youth Ki Awaaz:

[su_row][su_column size=”1/2″] “So what’s wrong with that? Be anti-establishment. Let them call you what they like, you do what is right, what you think is right,” says Madhu Purie Trehan, veteran Indian journalist, and the founding editor of the leading Indian news magazine, India Today, bolstering Youth Ki Awaaz to fearlessly ride the bandwagon of the fourth estate.

Newslaundry, Trehan’s brainchild, is an independent media website that turns the mirror on the media itself. Be it interrogating Markandey Katju on “asking for more teeth” for the Press Council; or telling Barkha Dutt straight up, “You spoke to somebody at the Taj. And he told you that there were a 100 hostages, suddenly everyone including the terrorists knew that there were hostages, because of you, Barkha!”, the tagline of Newslaundry – “sabki dhulai”, sets the ideological framework right.

Suffice to say that Madhu Trehan’s “Can you take it?” interviews of journalists, get her trending.

In 2009, her book Prism Me a Lie, Tell Me a Truth: Tehelka as Metaphor came out, which examined the 2001 Operation West End exposé and its aftermath. While on one hand it became a clarion call for all the aspiring journalists, on the other, it got embroiled in its share of controversies when renowned journalist Karan Thapar down-reviewed the book in the Hindustan times, calling it, ‘Truly sorry, Madhu’. In an unprecedented move, Madhu Trehan replied to the review in the same newspaper with an article titled, ‘Who’s afraid of Karan Thapar?’

That’s Madhu Trehan for you.

Youth Ki Awaaz caught up with the veteran journalist, whose mission is “to make news a public service again”, in a quick chat on the ethics of it all.

Q. We have very few organisations that are holding the media accountable for their reporting. As far as my knowledge goes, it’s only The Hoot and Newslaundry. What was your idea behind starting Newslaundry ?

A. Two is a lot, because in other countries there isn’t even one. And the idea – as you know, the credibility of journalists and journalism has been so damaged ever since news management started selling the editorial space (advertisements in the editorial space) that (now) you don’t know whether you’re reading an advertisement, or whether you’re reading a genuine report. The lines have become so blurred! Earlier, business and marketing stayed out of the editorial’s hair, and vice-versa. But that changed in the 90’s when The Times of India started selling their editorial space. Business and advertising began to lead the editorial, instead of the other way round.

Q. How would you describe your transition from print journalism to electronic journalism?

A. There was no transition. It makes no difference. If you’re a journalist and you write, you don’t care whether it’s being printed on a hard copy, or it’s going on the web, or whether you’re doing it for the television. It’s all the same. In fact, I think today’s journalists are natural convergents. They converge easily and I embrace that. I find it wonderful that if I want to, I can do an article which could also include an iPhone review for one minute or 5 seconds, and I can also add links to other stories in the same article; so it’s an amazing time! You’re lucky because you’re young, because I’ll be gone, because there are so many new things that are happening in technology and it’s very useful for journalists. Research is so simple; we used to go to libraries.

Q. Rajdeep Sardesai expressed in a talk that journalists have gained more freedom after Doordarshan. They have become more analytical. Now, there is a tussle, almost a fight to get the fist scoop, “the nation wants to know” sort of a scenario. How do you think this affects and impacts the public sentiment?

A. It’s good that journalists aim for getting the news first. That’s what a journalist does! Getting it first is important, so I don’t see any problem with that. I think they should do it that way. But not when you go for cheap and quick journalism, with just bytes and no in-depth reporting, no research done. For instance, I saw a woman on a television channel who went to Mira Nair and asked, “ Accha to ye to batao, ki apne yeh naam, Vanity Fair, kaise socha?” ( So tell us, how did you think of the name ‘Vanity Fair’ for your movie?) While the truth is that she should have done her research! Mira Nair very patiently explained, “Vanity Fair bohot purani classic hai jo Thackeray ne likhi thi” (Vanity Fair is an old classic written by Thackeray). Today, research is so simple. It’s the press of one button, and you get all of it instantly. So it’s inexcusable to not do your research.

Q. We at Youth Ki Awaaz are also an independent, journalistic platform, liberal, and progressive in our approach. Due to this, we are sometimes accused of being anti-state, or anti-establishment. What do you suggest be done to deal with the pressures of independent journalism being called overcritical?

A. So, what’s wrong with that? Be anti-establishment. Let them call you what they like. You do what is right, what you think is right. What difference does it make? People will call you all kinds of things.

Q. At your talk, you said that the generation before the 1990’s had seen state riots, such as the Godhra, so they could make those connections, and had a better sense of what was happening around them; today the generation is fickle, and is only jumping from one story to another. So, what do you think is the boon and bane of belonging to the post 1990’s generation?

A. I don’t think that it’s a generation’s fault. The onus is on the editors who push them to do these things, and many of them are misguided. They think that it’s all about ‘getting a byte’, and nobody is doing in-depth stories except for a few, like Sreenivasan Jain does it for NDTV. There are good pockets of journalism here and there. Hindi journalism does in-depth stories, Ravish is brilliant, Prasoon is good. But, I think that it’s the organisations; it’s the cheapest to get six idiots in a studio and let them scream at each other. It costs money to send a team to the north-east, or to Kashmir, or to the south. To go to all these places and do actual stories – it costs money. So they are going for the cheap option. But I think it will come from the circle, when they find that good journalism is what sells.

Q. When your book, ‘Tehelka as a Metaphor’ came out, you were quoted saying that you hope it becomes “a ray of hope in this highly cynical, jaded, Machiavellian society”. How essential do you think it is for journalists to be objective and not cynical, when it comes to investigation?

A. See, being objective is very difficult. Because when you are talking to a rape victim, how are you going to be objective? When you see somebody get beaten up by the police, how are you going to be objective? How are you going to be objective when a policeman is beaten up by a gunda? So journalists also have feelings. I think that’s fine. But the only thing to be careful about is not to allow yourself to be used by any political party, any corporate house, and by your own organisation. You have to stick to your guns, and I think junior journalists don’t realise how much power they have. I’ve seen incidents in a news meeting where the journalists get together and they tell the editor that we will not do a story, because it’s cheap.


[su_column size=”1/2″]

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

[alert type=white ]


What does your writing space look like?

It’s like a mad scientist’s…books, papers… and I keep promising myself “Ek din tidy karengey”.

The view from your window…

Greenery, bamboos.

That which keeps you from writing/work…

My children, my grandchildren.

What aspiring journalists must not do…

They must not ever go with a story just because one person is telling the story. They have to get it checked, double checked, and always get the other side.

Tea Or Coffee?


Early Bird, or Creature of the Night?

Creature of the night

Road trip, or flying?

Road trip.

If not a journalist, you’d be?

Maybe a stand-up comedian [/alert]


The interview was conducted as a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival

You must be to comment.

More from Kanika Katyal

Similar Posts

By Aastha Maggu

By Accountability Initiative

By Yash Johri

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below