Our Men in Blue took up much of the prime-time space on Indian television on Sunday — except of course on Zee News — especially after the team lost the Champions trophy match to Pakistan.
While the team’s performance ate up much of the airtime on news channels, Mirror Now chose to discuss a larger, albeit less popular issue — the implication of the beef ban on employment and livelihood.
Perhaps too onerous a subject given the prevailing mood, the channel’s prime-time show, The Urban Debate is no stranger to issues that don’t catch the eye of the mainstream media.
In March this year, Times Television Network (TTN) introduced, (to be accurate reworked) one of its existing property channels — Magicbricks Now. The relaunched channel called Mirror Now is an in-house brand name from its existing print tabloid days based out of Mumbai — Mumbai Mirror.
This is the second offering from TTN under the English news genre after Times Now. In a twist of fate, the two-month-old channel is competing with its erstwhile Editor-In-Chief Goswami’s Republic TV besides CNN-NEWS18, India Today, NDTV 24X7 and its sister channel Times Now.
But the show’s recent jump into the spotlight can be attributed to their June 9 episode, which subsequently went viral on social media.
What could possibly have been yet another retreading of old news, was subverted by anchor and Executive Editor of the channel, Faye D’Souza’s handling of one of the panelists on the show. The topic, pegged around the treatment meted out to Dangal actor Fatima Sana Shaikh for posting a swimsuit-clad picture in the month of Ramadan, was on women being harassed online for their appearance and attire.
During the course of the debate, one of the panelists, Maulana Qasim, a Muslim cleric, quipped that for women to be considered equal to men, they (directed at D’Souza) should show up to work in their underwear. “Underwear pehen ke aaye, tab mard aur aurat barabar ho jayenge (Come to work wearing underwear, if you want to be equal to men).”
To this, D’Souza, in her firmly polite demeanour responded, not just to Qasim and his ilk but to the world at large, “All you men think, that if you rattle all women when they’re doing their jobs that they will run back into their kitchens, they will cover themselves up, and leave the world again for you to conquer – I have news for you, we are not going anywhere. Yes, Maulanaji, this is a channel run by a woman – and no, this is not a woman that you can easily rattle”.
This is not the first time a panelist on a news show has said something inane, but what made this stand out is rather than resort to theatrics, D’Souza took the opportunity to make this a teachable moment, choosing to address the sexism head on.
Articles and social media posts in praise of D’Souza soon followed, lauding her for keeping her calm and “giving it back” to the cleric. This is not out of the ordinary for her, viewers of D’Souza’s show are aware of her stand on gender related matters.
Earlier this month, she conducted a Facebook live addressing the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council to rethink their decision on the 18 per cent taxes on all biscuits. She took on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and appealed to him to cut the tax rates on biscuits such as Parle G, which she explained is used as dry baby food by many women across the country. She also pointedly addressed the elephant in the room — the absence of women on the GST council.
With a commerce degree from Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, D’Souza began her journalistic career with All India Radio (AIR) in the city while she was a student. “Unfortunately, we don’t have radio news in India, but I did read news for All India Radio in Bangalore for a couple of years when I was in college,” she told Newslaundry.
D’Souza worked in many business newsrooms before Mirror Now. After passing out of college, she began her career in financial journalism with CNBC-TV18. “It was a good place to cut your teeth to learn how to spend time on each story, how to do justice to each story,” she added.
Later she moved on to ET Now, the financial channel of TTN, as part of the launch team before moving on to Magicbricks Now.
Besides The Urban Debate, she has hosted shows such as Investor’s Guide and The Property Guide on ET Now that primarily focused on women investors and their progress. “I feel very strongly about using money and using investments to empower women,” D’Souza said. This stream continues in her tenure at Mirror Now. “The last couple of months, we spent a lot of time talking about women’s safety in the north. Because that tends to be a huge issue for women, especially in the NCR region,” she said.
On the subject of what it must have been like to host a show run by a real estate channel, she surprised us with her answer, “home buyer rights are also citizen’s rights,” she said.
D’Souza admitted that the two-month-old channel has far surpassed its viewership targets. “We’re very young and we’re waiting for our numbers to build, but we’re playing with the big boys,” she said. “In a traditional BARC rating sense, we are doing more remarkably than I thought we would. We’ve beaten out internal targets of where we’ve wanted to be by this time,” she said proudly. She does admit that part of this could be attributed to the spike in viewership following her encounter with Qasim.
So how is Mirror Now any different from any of its competitors, despite a significantly more levelheaded anchor?
D’Souza claimed that the shows had a familial resemblance but completely different personalities. “It [Times Now] covers a lot of politics, national and international issues, their mandate is different,” she said. “Our mandate is to focus on the citizen. All the stories that I called out would not have been primetime stories on Times Now,” she added.
Sumanth C Raman, a political commentator, who participates on many debates on various channels including Mirror Now had one criticism for the channel. He felt that the channel tended to be a lot more Maharashtra centric. He did credit the collegial nature of the show to D’Souza, “Their topic selection is what I think is the key,” he said. “The anchor is quite well prepared with material and you actually end up getting a few points which are of relevance to you. You can say that you learnt something from the debate,” he opined.
Besides Sumanth, Newslaundry spoke to other panelists on the show who opined that unlike other channels, a panelist gets enough time to make a point while D’Souza intervenes and interjects at the right time.
“She doesn’t block out anybody and at the same time when people are behaving in an obnoxious fashion, she has the courage to address the issue right there and then,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member, Aijaz Ilmi told Newslaundry. He opined that the channel raises relevant issues that don’t get precedence in the normal news cycle of various channels. “They don’t shy from addressing causes and solutions of various urban and civic issues,” he said. But he also stressed that it was too early to define the character of the programme.
Perhaps stranger still is self-proclaimed “anti-feminist” Rahul Easwar in praise of the standard of discourse on the show. “Now it is all Fox News, Bill O’Reilly kind of a paradigm where all the anchors need to have a position and they vouch for it. Nobody is interested in the old Doordarshan style of debate. And she is one of the more strong female voices.” he told us.
Even for the world of television news, two months is an inordinately short time, but if what we’ve seen is any indication, then D’Souza and her team provide an alternative to the mic cutting, screaming fits or theatrical walk-offs that are currently our fare.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @shrutimenon10.