By Sanjay Kaul
The events of the past few weeks over the alleged anti-India expressions by a section of JNU students and the arrest of a student leader, the consequent lawyers’ activism which led to a severe altercation on the court premises, and media-bashing of the real sort are all consuming headlines rather disproportionate to the real crime, if we would have a section of the media to believe.
Stoking the fires is a recent show by NDTV India anchor Ravish Kumar who has skewered the media, TV particularly — yes, himself as it were — for reducing debate to debauchery, alternating the visuals with dramatic screen blackouts while he goes on to deliver a diatribe. What is not lost on anyone is the subliminal targeting of Times Now and its lead anchor Arnab Goswami in the episode — who in many ways epitomises all that Ravish’s prime time rant seems to suggest is wrong with the media, the current regime and the world in general.
I am no fan of the Goswami school of TV journalism. In fact I am on record suggesting that he has singlehandedly reduced TV journalism to a joke and the channel business to a circus, where the loudest claps are reserved for the biggest buffoon on his shows. But this latest plaintive cry from one of the more sedate anchors, and one we believed to be not given to theatrics, is a sudden development, although perhaps long in the making. I was forced to watch Ravish’s show, who is by my own admission a reasonably competent TV journalist, albeit of a melancholic disposition, as he launched on a rambling narrative that went from pointing fingers at his colleagues, the world, the ruling party, the social media, the right-wingers in general, the idea of nationalism and nationalists in particular. And while at it, en passant, he also cured Kashmir of its endemic problem by suggesting rather propitiously that the Kashmir problem has nothing to do with Islam at all.
It is ironic that it took one of the better-liked anchors to finally pull the plug on the drivel that channel heads and anchors have been forcing down our oesophaguses for so many years, but it is sweeter just because it took an NDTV anchor, which has represented mainstream TV in India largely for many years, to do it.
And yet, it was not done well at all.
One could easily ignore the episode as love gone sour between old school journalism and new school jingoism but truth is, Ravish is not lamenting the loss of journalism’s soul by crucifying Goswami. He is actually chiding his audience for choosing to watch him over them. He reserves the orgy of insinuations for his viewers and tells them in disingenuously-cloaked self deprecatory insults that they have sold their souls, lost discretion and have no intellectual gravitas to be watching the trash being dished out to them.
It may be unprecedented to attack a fellow news anchor that came out of your own stables but it is clear to a lot of people that the not-so-subtle references to Goswami are really a sum total of accumulated angst for Times Now’s relentless TRP-on-steroids growth. The establishment TV channels should realise that this growth is the result of insurgent marketing against them, the left-leaning, liberal templates of English channels and the subculture that migrated through lead anchors into other channels and dominated the business for many years. If they were careful to analyse it, they would see that Times Now was the first channel that prised open the centre-right and the right-wing support base with its hyperbolic, chest-thumping, shrill debates, no doubt helped in good measure by the commensurate personality traits of its lead anchor.
I have it on good authority that the Times Now strategy to take a right turn while the UPA was in power was a result as much of the overcrowded left-liberal space in TV that almost every channel positioned itself on, as much as it was a tactical shift to discover and harvest a new audience, which was on the rise in the penultimate years of the UPA regime.
Resentful of the Anglican school of nationalism paraded by most TV channels until then, the other India, more at home with its own brand of half-cocked English and poor grammar started looking elsewhere to find a more accurate impression of who they are, how they feel and what they think of things. The club of “what we should be like” got a rude jolt when the club of “we are like this only” started getting much higher memberships at the neighbouring TV channel. Truth be told, it was the Hindi channels that started it. But Times Now perfected the recipe and there was no denying that Goswami and his editorial mavericks had unleashed a new animal, whose instincts were all right – in many ways, for they colluded to puncture the UPA with its scams and the apologists for the Gandhi clan and cultivated the zealous right-winger, without apology on many occasions.
If Goswami is the enfant terrible of TV journalism it is only thanks to NDTV and the culture of reportage it has spawned, always condescending of the right-leaning viewership. Times Now welcomed the unwashed Hindu with aplomb and disrupted their comfy JNU cartels, first into confusion and then, submission. Ravish’s black screen tactic is perhaps viable in general, but it is woefully late in its timing and seriously short of honesty. The black screen, the stifled voice would probably have garnered more respect when the country was ravaged by corruption by the clansmen of the Gandhi family or when the regime resorted to police action on protestors repeatedly — against corruption, the rape of a young girl or the yoga guru Ramdev.
Ravish would have served his profession best if he had chosen to black out screens when a colleague of his (and a past student of the NDTV school of journalism) refused to exhibit damning tapes of a daring attempt to buy out parliamentarians. He could have also protested the idea of nationalism when our Parliament was attacked. Or, when Kashmiri Pandits were hounded out of the Valley like dogs. Those were black days. But the white-washing was always commensurate.
Ravish takes exception to the high-pitched ‘screaming’ on TV shows, using it as a metaphor for everything that is wrong with the media and We, the people. But the threatening tweets and the rude Facebook posts that he rants about are a silent scream too — of those who do not have the diction, or the mechanisms to say their say. The delivery of a thought in corroded verbiage by one that does not have a tongue as glib as yours or a skill with language such as you does not make a viewer irrelevant.
His disparagement, if it riles you, is only a pointer to how isolated and insular you have become; how truly untrue you are to your own promise of asking questions when the type of answers you want are preordained. You have forgotten that while you demand free speech, you block voices inimical to your way of thinking. You ask for tolerance but offer none, refusing to acknowledge those who cannot respond in the alphabet you are used to or the feelings you feel.
Ravish is not alone in this; in fact, he is probably the last in line of those guilty of this malady. So why do a few blows by irate lawyers and a litany of hate-tweets acquire for Ravish the atomic clouds of repression and impending Armageddon? Equally, we beg to fathom why Goswami-phobia hits him the most when the gulf between Times Now and NDTV’s respective viewership percentage is some 85 to three by a count provided lately. It is this scream that reverberates in the ears more sharply than any that Goswami can muster on his shows.
By any reckoning, Ravish’s TV show episode is a torridly pompous, self-indulgent exercise in pitting himself against a bigger mascot by pleading to consumers to reject Goswami in favour of the TV journalism he represents. To that extent, Ravish has only surrendered to Goswami, publicly.