One upon a time, “the Nation wanted to know”!

The year was 2007. When in my erstwhile company we decided to go for a brand campaign on TV for the 1st time, being in the business of business and enterprise products, we had English News and Business channels in mind. Our original idea was to spend much of the budget on NDTV 24*7, then an established leader in the category and some money on CNN-IBN, a challenger. Our creative agency and its media buying arm strongly suggested to add to the media mix Times Now, an upstart which had gone on air a year ago in 2006. I was hesitant and my 1st question was “Who watched Times Now?” I was told that Times Now with its firebrand anchor and All in All Arnab Goswami had the fastest growing viewership. Over and above that were willing to give an excellent deal. I gave in and we decided to put some money on Times Now as well for the campaign. Till then I never used to watch Times Now and was basically an avid NDTV and at times CNN-IBN watcher. To catch up with the campaign on Times Now during prime time, I started watching Times Now on and off in end 2007, mainly due to work compulsion!

For most Indians though, their tryst with Arnab started probably a year later in November 2008 when the dastardly terrorist attack on Mumbai happened. With rival channels beaming the entire counter operation live much to the exasperation of those carrying out the operation, it was Indian News Channels’ worst face palm moment in history. Being head quartered in Mumbai unlike other English channels which beamed from NCR, Times Now could deploy the maximum resources during the 3 day non-stop coverage of the attacks on Mumbai and garner the most eye balls of eager citizens wanting to know what was going on. For Arnab and Times Now, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks did what the 1991 Gulf war did for CNN!

I reckon that during this period, Times Now  became a serious player on prime time and in fact started boasting of TRPs ahead of NDTV 24*7 and CNN-IBN. There was no looking back since. The heady days of UPA-II offered much opportunity for Arnab to take the Government to the cleaners with scam after scam. The CWG scam, the 2G scam, the mining scam and the “Anna movement” all came in handy for Arnab. From here on, it is my belief that he ceased to be a News anchor or a journalist and started morphing into being the very righteous and highly moralistic “vigilante” leader! And the Nation lapped him up!

At 9.00 pm every night, Arnab was no more reading news. He was not even anchoring a news show. He was actually giving his “Address to the Nation” to gullible Indians for few minutes followed by debates where participants were literally “pigeon holed” and harangued. Those not on his side were interrupted, insulted and were handed over sermons. He became the advocate, prosecutor and the judge every night.  But in all this, he was doing well for himself. Arnab became a brand. In fact, became larger than the channel itself. Times Now became an undisputed leader in its category. For the middle class English news watching public, he was a hero who could question and tear apart a politician on live TV without fear. They kept goading him with more TRPs and he became unstoppable. So much so, in 2014 during the election season, when Rahul Gandhi wanted to give an interview and the Congress party decided to go with NDTV and Barkha Dutt, Arnab challenged them with facts and figures and ensured that the only interview Rahul gave was “Frankly speaking with Arnab”. And we all know how much that interview contributed to the Rahul folklore on social media! In the same token, in the run up to the election, the only English Channel to which Narendra Modi gave an interview was Times Now for Arnab!

While being on top of the game and world, Arnab decided to leave Times Now and he started his own channel named Republic TV which went on air in May 2017.  Here again, he has continued his vigilante model – only that his vigilantism is being applied only against the opposition party! Republic TV continues to rake up scams supposedly pertaining to the UPA era and at times even of the Rajiv Gandhi era! The Bofors story keeps popping up, not surprising as the original Bofors story architect, Chitra Subramaniam is associated with the channel. With the channel being funded mainly by Rajeev Chandrasekhar who is now been given a Rajya Sabha ticket by the ruling BJP, Republic TV’s loyalty is no more a secret. It never was. But now even that translucent mask is off!

Arnab is today a metaphor for the aggressive, noisy, angry, rooting for nationalism type of journalism. And the success of Arnab has led to a spawning of Arnab Goswami wannabes in channel after channel! From Rahul Shivshankar to Navika Kumar to Bhupendra Chaubey to Rahul Kanwal to Gaurav Sawant to Anand Narasimhan we have a parade of angry men and women masquerading as news anchors in every channel!  And night after night one can see them howling at guests who for whatever reason choose to appear on their shows!

Similarly the success of Times Now and now the apparent popularity of Republic TV within a short span has led to every channel following the shouting match formula on prime time! Among channels, with the exception of NDTV 24*7 which has chosen to stay away from debates on prime time, there is hardly any product differentiation! In fact, Times Now seems very much a clone of RepublicTV in almost all aspects – the stories of the day, the editorial line they take, the boxed debates, the profile of guests, the doorstepping of reporters, the Arnab like anchors in Rahul Shivshankar (an Arnab protégé) and Navika Kumar and even in the harebrained hashtags they come up with every evening! No wonder Arun Shourie, known for his penchant for one liners, came up with the sobriquet of “North Korean channels” for both!

9 pm prime time news has been my every night fixation for years. Not anymore. I have stopped watching Republic TV.  Rarely do I watch Times Now. And more importantly, I just give a fleeting glance for not more than 5 minutes of even the other channels.  Results from unscientific polls conducted with my folks over WhatsApp reveal similar trends. That of die hard news consumers shunning Arnab and his ilk in particular and English news channels in general.  Now this trend is not reflecting on the viewership data at least for now. But then, methodology adopted for opinion polls and collecting viewership data in India are as unscientific as they can get and hence I treat them with the same contempt.

News today is more noise. And hence it is nothing but entertainment.  Soon news channels will fight for being classified under General Entertainment category. If a finger has to be pointed on one person for this degeneration of the News TV genre in India, it should be on Arnab Goswami. There was a time when the entire “Nation wanted to know” from Arnab. Every night. Not anymore.

Postscript:  Malayalis tend to pronounce “News Anchor” as “News Anger”! Time for the nation to follow Mallus on this one!!!

0 thoughts on “One upon a time, “the Nation wanted to know”!”

  1. It’s well written Anand. And sums up the history and state of affairs in our news or infotainment channels. Nevertheless the channels are reflective of the state of affairs in our political discourses, what’s happening parliament being one such representation. Shout it down is the daily norm in the highest democratic institution.
    I guess the news channels will evolve. The western model is out there to emulate! Just like the audience, the nations politicians and the anchors in general!

    1. Thanks Venkatesh! In the past even when the parliament was not functioning due to disruptions,.. parties used to debate properly on TV studios to get their views across! Today even that is missing! Its complete shouting match egged on by anchors!

  2. Anand – As usual a deep analytical view, kudos to you for choosing such a diverse topics for ur blogs 👏👏 It shows your penchant for variety n versatility.
    I feel there is another angle to the popularity of channels like Republic n TimesNow. The so called neutral channel perhaps did not reflect neutrality in their reporting. So the viewers who wanted to hear the other stories or other side of the stories just latched on to these mouthpieces 😊😊

    1. Thanks Mukund for the feedback. You are right – the initial positive traction Arnab got was due to the viewers disenchantment with the so called neutral channels!. But he has squandered that space by shunning journalism and opting for theatrics!

  3. Good summary. I guess people have gone back to reading newspapers even though print journalism is no better. Even Hindu is no longer the same but better than the others. Good Anand….keep writing

  4. Good topic RSA….The channels have started taking sides openly of late which has enabled the viewers to predict correctly what is on the cards during that prime time show…Taking sides with one party was there in the past also, but not obvious like now… As far as Arnab is concerned,, in Republic TV he is seen as a wasted resource… He has to do some innovation and come out with different approach than Pak bashing, Sashi Tharoor and digging old Cong scams which people have already lost track after Demon…People memory is short, even a great brand like Nokia was forgotten in no time, becos it lacked innovation…. This applicable to all fields..

    Again great topic RSA…Kudos to you..

  5. S. Ganesh Sharma

    Arnab is the only journo who keeps national interest in mind and lays bare the pseudo secularism that the media and political parties preach, the anti-national stance of communists, the opportunistic politics of the INC, the rising unpatriotic student folks, especially in places like jnu, the self-appointed intellectuals who question the military officer on the so called human shield incident in j&k, etc. Don’t jump to a conclusion that I’m pro- bjp, whose economic policies of excessively taxing people, the atrociously suffocating gst etc I hate the most.

    1. Thanks Ganesh for reading and for the comment. I do feel that Arnab started out filling that gap which existed in the media but now he has become a victim of this strategy.

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