Placing An 'Arnab Goswami' in Context
NEW DELHI: The social media is registering a strong sense of relief ---under expressions of sardonic glee--- that Arnab Goswami who has become a household name across India has finally quit. Whether he has been sacked---as the increasingly favoured rumour suggests---or whether he has left of his own volition is seen by the thousands of tweets as just a matter of detail and as one young thing said, “well at least he has gone!”
But has he? For while he became the simplistic symptom for bad media, the malaise runs far deeper. And it has little to do whether one particular anchor has lost his job, or whether he will or not resurface again. Both are really immaterial---despite the fun many of us are having with the news---as the ranting, raving anchor really embodies all that has gone wrong with the media today. And in a sense has been wrong for a long while, except that everyone has chosen to ignore the elephant in the room for decades now until it has run amuck.
The Indian media has actually had very few moments of glory. It has let itself and the people it is there to speak for down, more often than not. It cowed before an authoritarian regime during the Emergency and over the years has systemically moved away from the people and towards the governments.
But to understand the current phenomenon perhaps one could make a case study of Arnab Goswami who is being reluctantly defended by some in the ruling establishment that he spoke so passionately for, but being pilloried by those who saw in his daily shows an injustice that crossed all lines of basic tolerance.
A fairly non-descript journalist to begin with he had a far from illustrious stint in the print media, and then went on to join NDTV where too he did not jump out of the screen at viewers. And was just about noticed. It was Times Now that transformed Goswami into what has been visible on television screens for a while now, with even the sharpest critics being drawn to the channel every night as if by some magnetic force outside and beyond themselves. “Terrible”, “Sick” and yet the same persons when asked why they watched, did not have a convincing answer. Nor did those who went on his channel to be screamed at, almost abused---like the Pakistanis--- and yet were there whenever invited like the proverbial masochists.
Goswami’s rise corresponded directly to his complete violation of the ethics and norms of journalism, his open dimissiveness of responsibilities, his loud editorialising where his view was the only acceptable view, his insistence that he was no longer a communicator but a spokesperson for the nation, and his brazen adoption of the judge, jury and hangman mantle, all rolled into one. And in the process, his black and white journalism that clearly attracted viewers and the advertisors, polarised viewers, marginalised the targets,
So loud and offensive was he that other anchors---except of course the wannabes imitating him in form and substance---appeared ‘reasonable’ and this to ones mind was the most dangerous contribution by Goswami. He made bad journalism acceptable, as he became the yardstick of comparison. Those who questioned him embraced the bad as the better, and those who were mesmerised by his in your face editorialising, believed the black or the white as he painted it quite forgetting the shades of grey that reality is often woven in. The bludgeoning style of forcing the one truth on the viewer placed the news channel out of even the loose folds of journalism, with the second opinion being forced out of the space altogether.
It did not take long for this to be coopted and copied by the others who remain behind though, and over the past one year the ‘hammer home the one point of view’ journalism has been weighed entirely in favour of the ruling establishment. Not just in what is covered, but also what is deliberately ignored with newsworthiness being determined accordingly, and news becoming the big casualty.
This is really what has happened to television news per se. The complete absence, and even rejection of journalistic professionalism (the term interweaves media ethics, responsibilities, rights) became directly linked to money. And money being big came from the corporates, and as all of us in the profession know there is not a dime available without strings attached. And corporates to put it simplistically have big business interests, need government support, and media then becomes a big tool to curry favours of all sorts.
In the process television created stars; to attract TRPs, to attract advertisements and money dole outs. Reporters thus became television stars; stars developed a turf; stars did not tolerate competition; stars got huge salaries; stars developed vested interests with the rich and the powerful; and in the process news became secondary to the star whose personality dominated, and of course continues to dominate.
With celebrity status comes the big money, and the fulfilled desire to rub shoulders with similar stars from the political and corporate world. News then was tailored accordingly, paid for at times slyly in cash and kind, and then over the years brought formally ‘under control.’ The ever needy (or is it greedy) television channels gobbled up offers of money, and kept censoring news to a point of no return.
The point was reached after the poor and the marginalised of India, their protests, their concerns, the discrimination against them, all went off the screens and the front pages of newspapers. No one wants to see a begging bowl or a starving child on a Sunday morning, said an editor one had worked with every now and again. Well know television has taken heed too and ensured no such visuals hurt the sensitive eye of the business person or the advertisor any day of the week. These are not the people who fetch the money, these are the people who turn away business.
The Goswami’s are just a louder, and more obnoxious voice than others. They show actually the logical conclusion of the media that the corporates and governments have together unleashed on the citizens of India. They basically demonstrate how the media can be controlled, how information can be rigged, and how news can be distorted.
They also show up the system where there is not a single journalistic body that is willing, or for that matter able, to take the bull by the horns and bring back decorum and ethics to journalism; where citizens because of political affiliations endorse the massacre of facts; and where the smile of complete success is plastered on the faces of governments and corporates who know that the editors running powerful TV news these days are completely under control.
So as they say it is not over until it is over. And there are no signs of that at all.