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Global B.C.'s Neetu Garcha discusses the importance of asking hard questions, and how the tough times have made her a better journalist
Last year, Global News viewers watched Neetu Garcha unapologetically come into her own, when the reporter and anchor filmed a segment called Why Saying a Name Right Matters. The Penticton native had a moment of reckoning around her 30th birthday, when she reported on the farmers’ protest in India, prompting an unexpected reassessment of her relationship with her own name. Throughout my life, I remember having inner conflict around how I change the pronunciation of my name around non-Punjabi people, she says. In that two-minute segment about Indian farmers, Garcha had pronounced every name the Punjabi way, except her own. I, like many, started reflecting on the importance of embracing my true identity, heritage and culture—because if I don’t, then I’m potentially contributing to a broader problem.
Garcha decided to sign off her news segment with the traditional pronunciation, setting in motion a snowball effect that has only served to bring her closer to her audience. There was a genuine interest and encouragement, she recalls. I had no idea how it would be interpreted but it resonated with more people than I even could have imagined. I have never felt more authentically myself in my professional and personal life than I have since I made that decision. Recently, TV Week got to know Garcha a little bit better.TV Week: How have these past few years informed you as a person and a journalistNeetu Garcha: It’s put a lot into perspective. I’ve always been thankful to have a career where I find fulfilment and an ability to tell stories that matter, but never have I been more thankful to have a source of income and somewhere to go every single day. Never have I been more cognizant of the struggles of every single person out there that I’m interviewing. It’s definitely made me a more empathetic and sensitive journalist in a lot of ways.
In a similar vein, what kind of opportunities have the last few years presented?There’s been many opportunities to hold people in power to account. Partly because of the pandemic and how many laws, rules and regulations are being put in place in a very short period of time. But also, just in general, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to hold politicians to account during an election, for example, and that has really shaped me as a journalist. I’ve realized the power there is in really holding somebody’s feet to the fire and not allowing talking points to dominate a conversation.
Your interview with Justin Trudeau was a great example of that. How do you prepare for someone whose talking points are so polished?I listen to or watch every single interview I can find that the politician did a week or two prior to my one-on-one with them, and I make sure not to ask the same questions. That also closes any doors for that politician to be able to just repeat talking points and allows the audience to hopefully hear a new perspective on issues from that politician. Part of my preparation is knowing the issues. I think as a reporter and anchor, I’m out in the field and I’m hearing what people who are most impacted by those issues have to say about them. I take what I hear from the public and present that to the powers-that-be. I speak on behalf of the public.What were the career moments that made it clear to you that you’re in the right field?I actually only started feeling that way recently, believe it or not. I knew in my heart that I was on the right path and that this industry is for me, but I never really felt like I found my voice or my niche within it until recently. My passion is stories related to social justice and holding powerful people to account. I’ve been given opportunities to do those things and realized, This feels right.Do you remember a specific story which made that clear for you?I was working at Global Okanagan in Kelowna and Penticton. I saw on my Facebook feed this devastating photo of a child washed up on a shore in Greece, as his family tried to flee the war in Syria. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I decided to take some unpaid time off work. I had no plan, but I had contacts on the ground who were with a not-for-profit, and just showed up and started filming and interviewing people. Journalistically, that experience was second to none because I was on the front line, reporting what I was witnessing, in the month after the largest migration of refugees and migrants since World War Two started to peak. It was that moment I started to realize where my passion is.
How do you separate yourself from the job at the end of the day?I try to maintain physical health, and I feel like the mental and emotional components can follow if I can maintain that. I think my biggest gift to myself is giving myself 30 minutes a day to work out and move my body, whether it’s stretching or something else.
During the pandemic, I’ve been pretty isolated from friends and family. I really miss my family. They’re in the Okanagan, but I’ve been unable to go see them, first of all, because of the river and the incredible damages it did to our highway infrastructure. Now, because of the spread of Omicron, we, like many other companies, are short-staffed, so I’m needed at work. But that’s a small price to pay to help keep everybody safe.Are you a planner, or do you live in the moment?I have learned, in life, that you can plan as much as you want and things will not often go as planned. I’m in my 30s now and I think about where I want to be and what I want to do when I’m in my 40s and how I can lay that foundation. That’s more about healthy habits like exercising, eating well, learning as many skills as I can about investigative journalism and storytelling and writing, because I know that’s only going to serve me. In terms of specifics? No. I very much take things as they come and when an opportunity presents itself, I’m somebody who jumps at something. Even if I’m terrified and it scares me and it overwhelms me, I will jump towards it and give it a go.
Global News Hour at 6 airs Saturdays and Sundays at 5:59 p.m. on Global