I was in the midst of Diwali festivities when the fireworks about Arnab Goswami’s quitting Times Now lit up social media. After the initial disbelief there were a series of crackling tributes from viewers. Someone said, “This is the best Diwali ever. It signals the end of the worst phase of television journalism.” To which another said, “Enjoy the quiet while it lasts. He will start his new venture.” Yet another added, “Thank God the noisiest bomb has been diffused.”
Amidst all the speculation, there was a studied silence from his peers who had witnessed Newshour sit at the top for eight straight years. The bespectacled enfant terrible had emerged to unsettle the smug club. After all, don’t we die a little when a friend succeeds? Moreover, the reality of a cut throat media is that your success is not as important as the failure of others.
Anyway, paeans have been written about Arnab and his style of journalism. The question is, what exactly drives this sort of noisy tele-tyranny?
While I’m a news junkie, I don’t like shouting. And I don’t like being shouted at. And yet, I have to admit that I am tempted to catch glimpses of Newshour. Note that ‘glimpses’ is the key word, okay? Those who watch the entire show have nerves of steel. Erm, rather ears of steel. So why do I watch a raucous show? Perhaps, because Arnab asks questions that no other news anchor dares to. Perhaps because watching Newshour is like watching an intellectual Big Boss. In fact there are multiple drivers.
Recently, I was presented with a Twitter poll - do you watch news because you want to know what’s happening or do you watch news for entertainment? An overwhelming number voted for news as infotainment. Is it any surprise then that Wrestlemania trumps all?
Rewind to 1998 when Arnab Goswami presented Newshour on NDTV, he was a pale shadow of his current thundering typhoon persona. His popularity grew when he joined Times Now in 2006. So I’m not sure if his power comes from the Times Group or his verbal pyrotechnics, or both, but what I know is that power does different things to different people. In case of Arnab, it brought out the love for his own voice. And the masses loved it. Much like Chetan Bhagat’s novels, Arnab’s Newshour catered to a new demographic that sneered at the privileged. Given that the product had become bigger than the brand, the wise had seen his resignation coming.
This brings me to what Vinod Mehta wrote, “When I began my career, our mandate was to bring sunlight to the wrongdoing. Once that was done, other democratic institutions would take over the baton. ‘Activism’ was a dirty word in our lexicon. Now it is a virtue, indeed a necessity. Ironically, some of our anchors who hurl fire and brimstone from Monday to Friday are the gentlest creatures off the screen. They shed their pugnacity and become normal immediately after the show."
So this fire breathing dragon-esque demeanor is all a pretense. Moreover, unlike his NDTV colleagues who belong to an erstwhile privileged club but were scarred by controversies (Radia tapes and cash for vote scam) Arnab continues to wear a nationalistic halo. So when he plays dinner time orchestra, pulls the harps, bangs the drums and blows his trumpet, it sounds like symphony to his viewers. Whether it is the bashing of Pakistani guests, sneering at Bollywood’s cocktail circuit or milking the common man’s outrage, the fireworks ensure spectacular viewing. While the elite criticize his jingoist pounding and narrow identity journalism, his contemptuous questioning of the powerful empowers the common man.
As for me, the one thing that unnerves me about Arnab is that he comes with a notion that he is always right. So where is the scope for debate? Anyway, given the political agenda of news channels, television debates complicate issues instead of resolving them. And it’s not that the future of democracy depends on the outcome of these debates, right?
The truth is that viewers get what they want and not what Arnab wants. He knows that infotainment is a shared joy because there is no Arnab without the viewer and, of course, there is no viewer without Arnab. Since TRP is the only moral, inherent drama and riveting action make for compulsive viewing.
But hang on. While I contemplate peaceful dinner nights here on, I see Arnab judging wrestle mania, jerking his gelled hair and nudging the two politicians to gorge out each other’s eyes. Was the ‘I quit’ bomb a damp squib? All bluster? After all, our man from Assam, the son of a retired Colonel is known to have the last word, right? Even if he moves on, he will ensure that he has the last word. That is a given.
In his farewell speech, Arnab is seen as saying, “The game has just begun.” Well, bring it on.
It is not Arnab who loves infotainment. It is the viewer.
Image Courtesy: From here