A Ghost Named Arnab Goswami
“Conceal your intentions”, wrote American strategist Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power, “Keep people off balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late.”
These words perhaps, narrate a story about the success of news channels in India. The country has been witnessing a media revolution ever since 1987, when the state offered to bend its rules and expose the country to private media. In recent years however the competition has grown stiff.
News channels have mushroomed all over the country in English, Hindi and regional languages. They have also given birth to newscasters with opinion, and an increase in news analysis especially in the English news primetime segment. While traditionally news channels have been soft towards the government, the state domination seems to have relaxed to an extent over recent few years. At least to a common man’s eye. But, that hasn’t stopped accusations of ‘planted stories’ against many among the mainstream media in India. It has even led to an entirely new term called the ‘paid media’.
Journalism has traveled long and met stiff challenges as witnessed during the Emergency. There have been instances of remarkably gutsy journalism such as the Tehelka sting operation, which saw the journalists and the media house behind it be vilified by the government. So, when a journalist of Assamese origin feels outraged and dares to ask tough questions on the most watched news analysis show on Indian television, fellow editors feel uncomfortable, politicians grounded, and anti-state actors question his national interest as a populist TRP driven strategy. The monopoly of the English TV media in India has faced a challenge in Arnab Goswami.
Goswami, claimed to be the most visible face on television in India today, is loud in his opinion and doesn’t conceal his intentions on live broadcast. Instead, he is quite direct in his arguments or agenda. For that very reason, he is an easy target among critics and fellow journalists who love to mock his style. His aggressive zeal for answers has distinguished him from the other two most visible faces and change-makers in English TV news – Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt. The paradigm shift Goswami has brought to the TV news approach in the last few years is unquestionable. Yes, a thousand questions may be directed at him, in the ‘nation-wants-to-know’ style, but he can never be accused of being biased, least of all politically.
Activist turned stand-up comedian, Gursimran Khamba in his mild sarcasm-filled open letter to Arnab Goswami in 2010 wrote, “Your critics say, a one horned Rhino gets poached in Kaziranga every time you open your mouth on television. I say they are all jealous of your success.” Perhaps they are. Another reason being a letter Goswami wrote to his employees shortly after 2G scam surfaced in the media, and alleged tapes of Nira Radia with reputed editors became public.
“This is a low point in the news business. It’s downright shameful,” wrote Goswami in an open letter to his employees, “We believe in fierce editorial independence and complete personal honesty. Our standards have to remain impeccably high. In your interactions at any level, remember that you are ambassadors of India’s number one news channel.
He further wrote, “…no disrespect to the organization that you represent and the group that we are all a part of, no loose talk, no flexibility on values, will be accepted. If I hear of any, we will come down hard, and no exceptions will be made….”
The public letter took a stand amidst the silence of virtually the entire Indian media, and would surely have given birth to foes within it. The ethics of the rest of the media however remain buried deep inside an ocean full of precarious silence.
The power of an editor today is immense, and if not kept in check, can affect issues of national importance. The scathing criticism of some editors over social networking websites has only increased. Ignorance, and above all arrogance would certainly not help in a situation as grave as this in the present significance of social media.
In India, news channels have to now cross these infant years to a more important mature stage to lead a democracy out of its lacuna. It is imperative for media in general to have a collective conscience. Yes, it’s definitely hard in the times of corporate ownership of a lot of the media houses.
‘Remember, for a journalist, credibility is like virginity. You can lose it only once’, veteran journalist Vinod Mehta wrote in his memoir, The Lucknow Boy. The notion of credibility has long lost its value in media. Indian media cannot be burdened with this responsibility alone till we have Rupert Murdoch who won’t let the sun set easy.
Till then at least, a ghost named Arnab Goswami will continue to haunt power-brokers.
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