Sensationalism is the new journalistic norm.
In the world of Indian broadcast journalism, Arnab Goswami is an outlier. That he was trained in news-reporting under the aegis of NDTV, may come as a surprise to some. But a closer analysis of the highly fragmented nature of India-born private TV news industry suggests that competition gave rise to an unfathomable penchant for sensationalism, leaving little time for fact-based reportage. Training in reportage is, therefore, no longer the gold standard in the broadcast industry—the business model of which, is sustained by the broadcast of partisan opinion-making, citizen-driven activism, and of course, by the selling of ‘exclusives’. Indian media arguably had its first Gulf War moment during the Godhra-induced Gujarat riots of 2002. Things have never been the same since. And until we invent a new business model which can sustain the industry—sensationalism is here to stay.
Nobody is holier-than-thou.
If Arnab Goswami sells ‘chest-thumping patriotism’, Ravish Kumar, to take an example— sells ‘self-pity’. If Arnab has coined the term,‘Lutyen’s Media’, Ravish is not too far behind with his phrase, ‘Godi Media’. If Arnab calls out ‘anti-nationals’, the likes of Ravish paint everyone they disagree with, as ‘fascists’. If Arnab ‘shouts’ at his viewers, Ravish regularly delivers a ‘sermon’ —sometimes, from behind a black screen. From the standpoint of biased media, Ravish Kumar’s NDTV is not very different from Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV. Neither are the digital publications which claim otherwise. The inconvenient truth is that fuelling a public debate on an issue of national importance, and making it seem like a national, existential crisis—is the new journalistic norm. Rajdeep Sardesai, in a widely publicised video, recounts the dastardly 2001 Parliamentary attack, since it happened when he was present in the premises, himself. He claims that he instructed his cameraman to close the gates; for he did not want any other journalist to come in the way of his exclusive access. He describes his ilk as ‘vultures’. Vultures or not—none among the lot is holier-than-thou. And therefore, any discussion on journalistic ethics—ought to be initiated without claiming, or asserting moral superiority of any kind.
Silent Majority Vs. Compulsive Contrarians
To put things in perspective, this is a fight between the one who builds on the popular will of a silent majority—and the one who caters to compulsive contrarians, and perpetual dissenters on the other end of the political divide. Arnab Goswami is not the only ringmaster of this circus—he just presently happens to be the most successful one. There is one simple solution for those who do not agree with him: pick up the remote, and change the channel.
Stating that the Congress President was born in Italy is no crime. Calling her out on the abject failure of her Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra Government, in ensuring that the law and order is maintained— is permissible. Reminding the country of her questionable politics of compromise is no threat to public order, morality, or decency. Why should the law, then, restrict Arnab’s speech?
The Hypocrisy of Congress
The Congress party, though, has a long history of protecting the sacrosanct First Family—from any element of criticism. It is, therefore, not surprising that sycophants of the family-run proprietorship have already started demanding Goswami’s arrest. That the Family does not take criticism lightly was made clear by ‘Chacha’ Nehru himself—when in 1951, he enacted the First Amendment to the Indian Constitution, to restrict freedom of speech—upon reading a critique of his policy by communist, Romesh Thapar. Subsequent generations have carried forward, the tradition of quelling dissent. Take, for example, the fact that in the year 2008– Spanish author Javier Moro’s account of Sonia Gandhi’s life- The Red Sari, was not cleared for publication in India. But the Gandhi family has never gone after journalists who do not actively contest their narrative. It is, therefore, to nobody’s surprise, that in the same year (2008)—Barkha Dutt, and Rajdeep Sardesai were awarded the Padma Shri.
Of the Editors Guild.
As Congress workers file FIRs against Arnab in every nook and corner of the country—Editors Guild of India, which describes itself as a ‘non-partisan association of editorial leaders in India’, is nowhere in action. Good or bad—does the Guild not even recognise Arnab as an ‘editorial leader’?Where is the appeal to maintain press freedom? Where are the letters of support? No editorial activism for Arnab’s right to speech? Is it not deeply hypocritical of the Guild that while it actively wrote against the Congress President, when she advised the government to cut spending on advertisements—it is today silent simply because the person whose life is on line is not a journalist of The Hindu, but the proprietor of Republic TV? That Goswami’s former colleagues have turned a blind eye to the bullying by Congress party—reveals that all are complicit by silence.
Let the viewers choose.
As for Left-leaning Liberals, they lost the plot on the issue long time back, when they legitimised the on-flight heckling of a journalist by a thoughtless comic, Kunal Kamra. It is now an established fact that liberalism has lost its way.
There is much to debate about Goswami’s style of journalism. His critics argue that he has rarely gone against the majoritarian impulse. His supporters, on the other hand— celebrate the fact that the TV studio which was once characterised as an agent of somnolence, is now the facilitator of national conversation. Either way—it is difficult to hold him criminally, and morally accountable for building, and countering narratives. What we can do, however, is offer viewers—the choice to decide for themselves.
My advise to Congressmen: Advise viewer discretion. Take Arnab Goswami on—counter facts, and opinions. But do not demonise a commentator who does not agree with you— not Arnab, not anyone else. And please don’t physically assault him, and his wife—in the middle of the night.
As for Mrs. Gandhi, she may choose to reflect over what American broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, once said:
“When the politicians complain that TV turns the proceedings into a circus, it should be made clear that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained.”
Finally, in so far as the viewers are concerned, I invoke the rant of Peter Finch, in the 1976 film Network:
“So, you listen to me. Television is not the truth. Television is a God-damned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business. So if you want the truth — Go to God. Go to your gurus. Go to yourselves. Because that’s the only place you’re ever going to find any real truth.”