I want to talk about Indian realities: Tim Sebastian

July 14th, 2012 - 2:41 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 14 (IANS) As India is staking big on its large youth population, award-winning British television journalist Tim Sebastian, founder of the “Doha Debates”, says he wants to engage young Indians to debate the realities facing the growing Asian powerhouse.

Sebastian’s new television programme “The Outsider”, which features debates on various Indian issues, opens in August.

“We will be talking among other things about corruption, Kashmir, dynastic politics, life of women in India and whether the country could be heading for a revolution,” Sebastian told IANS in an interview.

“Our subjects are controversial and will address concerns raised by Indians. Of course, other programmes too tackle these topics, but we hope to raise them in a different and compelling way - primarily with young people,” Sebastian said.

The British television host said his “favourite word in debating was ‘accountability’”.

“By raising such issues with politicians and other influential figures, we will encourage young people to hold them to account,” Sebastian said.

Sebastian is chairman of the popular eight-year-old “Doha Debates”, which he conceived to explore free speech and issues affecting the changing Gulf-Arab world from Qatar in 2004.

In 2011, he created the “New Arab Debates” based in Cairo and Tunis to facilitate freedom of expression in the two nations, which were in the eye of the Arab Spring - a series of protests and demonstrations starting in late 2010 and forcing regime changes in many nations in the region.

The debates, known for their strident candour and controversial content, have received international acclaim.

Sebastian, the former host of BBC’s interview programme “Hard Talk,” said “the format of ‘the Outsider’ will be similar to the Doha Debates.”

“People around the world seem to like the format. They appreciate structured, robust questioning and emphasis on lively audience participation. We believe the most important word in debating is ‘challenge’ - challenging politicians and thought leaders to justify their opinions, their record and their actions,” he said.

The Doha Debates, sponsored by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, has addressed issues like “Censorship Makes a Mockery of the Arts”, “Arab Government Need to Take Urgent Measures to Protect Religious Minorities” and “Marriage Between Close Family Members Should be Discouraged.”

The debates draw participants from both the Arab and the non-Arab world.

Sebastian does not know whether the debates have directly influenced the Arab world, but says that “there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that people in the middle east changed their minds about some pretty key issues”.

“I’m not talking about mass conversion, but we did provide the only free speech forum of its kind in the Arab world, while most countries were under strict censorship. The light definitely went on inside a number of heads,” the television host observed.

Sebastian points out that “debating has become more and more fashionable in many parts of the world”.

“Sometimes, it is the only way people believe their views can get heard. We don’t chase ratings. So, I am not interested in huge audiences. But we want to attract those who are interested in issues that matter to them… In other words, the politically involved,” he said.

The noted television journalist adds, “People liked to road test their thoughts in a public forum - just as they had for thousands of years in certain parts of the world.”

Sebastian prefers “players to pundits”. “The best audience is about two-thirds students - English-speaking and politically aware,” he said.

The India debate will be telecast by Bloomberg/UTV’s business channel Sobo Films.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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