Friday, November 04, 2016

Striving to put public interest first is great, but do it with humility

As I sit down to write this piece, I receive a phone call from my aunt. It is almost 9 pm. She is in quite a bad way, combating vertigo. But that is secondary for her – what is most important is her daily date with the News Hour on Times Now. She is calling to say she will miss Arnab Goswami terribly and hopes he will be back on television soon. I cannot resist reaching out for the TV remote and switching it on. Goswami is still anchoring the show, the day reports had appeared in all the major newspapers, even on the front pages of some, that he had quit Times Now. It was my daughter who sent me news the previous afternoon about Goswami quitting, her WhatsApp message providing the link to the news report that had appeared on The News Minute site. By then, the news had already gone viral. In all my life I haven’t seen a media personality being discussed so much, someone who mattered so much to competition.

There has been a certain drag and monotony to News Hour the past few months with even some of the early faithfuls keeping away but what was it really that made Arnab Goswami attractive to young and old alike? I have seen youngsters watch his ‘super prime time’ show in what can only be called mute admiration. Clearly, here was a man who held people of all ages enthralled, almost like he was a
storyteller unfolding a magical tale. Of course, there were many who hated his high-decibel volume, his constant hectoring tone of voice, and his elbowing participants into submission, but whether you loved him or hated him, you did spare time to watch him. While debating issues, he made no bones about letting viewers know where his sympathies lay, in certain cases pressing the patriotism button too many times for comfort. That really wasn’t healthy journalism at all. At the other extreme was his chameleon-like change – his interview with the Indian Prime Minister appeared so thoughtfully choreographed that Twitterati had described the show as if they were “watching a date”.

Whichever way you may look at it, most will agree that television’s Angry Young Man not only changed the debating style in the television studio newsroom but, more significantly, voiced the feelings of the common person. Goswami vented his ire on the rich and famous, the film star, the sportsperson, the diplomat, the religious head and several others, but, mostly, his seething anger was directed at the politician. It was as if the collective frustration of a country had finally found an outlet, a worthy outlet which people in high places just could not ignore. It was as if India’s common man had finally found an effective, thundering spokesperson. And much like Amitabh Bachchan reflected the hopes and aspirations of Indians in the 1970s, intolerant of exploitation and delivering speedy justice, Arnab Goswami came down hard on oppressors of varying kinds, not by using his fists but by his sheer gift of the gab.

Goswami’s innings at Times Now may have come to an end but it isn’t as if Indian television has seen the last of him. The competition must have squealed in delight when the news broke out but they will be waiting and watching. There will also be millions, like my aunt, waiting, which is all well and good. So, what’s the moral of the story? There may be more than one. Whether it is personal or business, both the sides have to work to keep a relationship going, which, of course, is easier said than done (news about Goswami quitting Times Now arrived the day Gautami announced her split with Kamal Haasan, and a few days after Cyrus Mistry was ousted as chairman of the Tata Group). The other thing is, no matter how big a star you are, it pays to work with humility, and this is where Goswami fell far short, earning dislike by the loads in the bargain. You may be the No. 1 news channel or the first with the breaking news, but it needn’t be announced from rooftops every single day. You can do much better without such braggadocio. And when you are in the media, you have to be absolutely neutral and unbiased, allow people to speak and listen to them with respect, and at all times be humble. Some of the reasons we have another star on the horizon who well-meaning journalists now look up to. His name is Ravish Kumar, but that’s a story for another day.

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