With dwindling TRP ratings and frequent social media criticism of their bias, India Today is caught in a state of fix. Instead of course-correction, the news channel has been up-in-arms against its rival Republic TV. The motivated campaign has been spearheaded by two ‘ace’ journalists, namely Rahul Kanwal and Rajdeep Sardesai. In a bid to settle scores and placate their inflated individual egos with media baron Arnab Goswami, the duo has been further damaging the credibility of their channel – India Today.
A look at the BARC website shows that Republic TV has registered 5 times more viewership than India Today between September 12 and September 18. While India Today is at a distant 5th position, Republic Tv has managed to grab the top spot in the ‘English News’ genre.
The story is no different when it comes to ‘Hindi News’ genre. Owned by India Today group, Aaj Tak had earlier managed to grab the top spot for a span of 13 year period. But, Republic Bharat, which was launched 1.5 years ago in February 2019, had turned the TRP tide towards it. Between August 15 and August 21, Republic Bharat recorded 16.40% viewership while AajTak fell behind with 14.26% viewership.
The case has remained consistent ever since August. For the period between September 12 and September 18, Republic Bharat recorded 27,84,77,000 impressions but Aaj Tak could only manage 19,86,58,000 weekly impressions. The dwindling TRPs number has probably left both Rajdeep Sardesai and Rahul Kanwal agitated, as is evident from their constant tweets and vented frustrations targeted against Republic and its Editor in chief.
Social media feud between India Today and Republic Tv
On 8th September, Kanwal wrote on his Twitter account that while “Banana Republic” channels are questioning India Today’s integrity for interviewing Rhea Chakraborty, they are hounding Rhea across Mumbai city desperately hoping that she will talk to them. “India Today got an interview you wanted,” he added and compared Arnab Goswami with Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels.
Republic TV did not take time to reply and tagged India Today, Aaj Tak and Aroon Purie, where they shared weekly TRP data of the top five news channels. Republic wrote, “Can you give this (weekly TRP report) to your newsdesk with our compliments and tell them to take a chill pill.”
India Today and Republic TV had chosen sides in Sushant Singh Rajput’s case. While Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV has been standing with Rajput’s family, India Today has come to the rescue of Rhea Chakraborty and has been raising voice against the comments made by various news agencies against her.
India Today editor Rahul Kanwal had lied about ratings in April
India Today’s Rahul Kanwal has bee upset with Republic TV for quite some time now. Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic in April, Rahul Kanwal claimed that viewers were spending twice the time on India Today than they did on their competitors.
Following his assertion, Rahul Kanwal had said, “Bloated egos and noise factories can polarise but they can’t report on a fast-moving story”. The obvious reference of Rahul Kanwal’s tweet was Republic TV and Arnab Goswami. Further, Rahul Kanwal claimed that Aaj Tak and India Today were “number 1 this week”.
On cross-checking the BARC data, it became clear that Kanwal’s claim was wrong. From the 28th March 2020 to the 3rd of April 2020, according to BARC, Republic TV had a substantial lead over India Today. In fact, Times Now was second to Republic TV and India Today was a distant third.
Week 14 (4th April to 10th April) was worse for India Today. While Republic scored 1896, India Today scored only an 866, slipping to the number 4 spot. It is pertinent to note that Rahul Kanwal had congratulated himself first on the 9th of April.
Doublespeak on Deepika Padukone’s summon by NCW
Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor, and Rakul Preet Singh were summoned by Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on Wednesday in a Bollywood-drug nexus case. India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai alleged that the government was using Deepika Padukone as a distraction from major issues like the Farmers Bill. Rajdeep Sardesai took to Twitter to hint that Deepika Padukone’s summons by the Narcotics Bureau on September 25 was somehow connected to the farmer’s protest.
But amusingly, while on one side the India Today journalists were seen casting aspersions on the government for using the actor to distract the public’s attention from the larger issues and whining about the unnecessary media coverage being given to Deepika Padukone’s summon, their own journalists were stationed in Goa, covering Deepika Padukone’s minute-by-minute update.
Senior journalists from India Today were even seen chasing cars, trying to cover Deepika’s journey from her hotel to the airport.
Downplaying the attack on Republic Tv journalist
Hours after psephologist and republic TV journalist Pradeep Bhandari was manhandled and slapped by a fellow ABP journalist, Rajdeep Sardesai wasted no time in downplaying the assault and engaging in victim-blaming. Referring to the security provided to Bhandari, he ranted, “An image which perhaps defines the Tv media in ‘Banana Republic’ times.” While casting aspersions about the integrity of Pradeep Bhandari, Sardesai indirectly justified the attack as a ‘sign of lost respect’.
He claimed, “When a ‘noise’ channel hires private security to ‘protect’ their so-called reporter from fellow journalists: it’s a sign of the channel having lost the most precious TRP: TV RESPECT POINTS of your peers!”
An image which perhaps defines the tv media in banana republic times. When a ‘noise’ channel hires private security to ‘protect’ their so called reporter from fellow journalists: it’s a sign of the channel having lost the most precious TRP: TV RESPECT POINTS of your peers!🙏 pic.twitter.com/cVWSx0HUf1— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) September 24, 2020
Failing to condemn the fact that a fellow journalist has been attacked, Rajdeep took the incident as an opportunity for scoring goals, to pontificate that Republic TV may have better TRPs, but it is losing ‘respect’. The passive frustration of losing in the TRP race to a ‘New’ channel was visible again.
Hypocrisy over privacy and Whatsapp Chats
On Thursday, Rahul Kanwal took to Twitter to raise concerns over ‘digital privacy’ and the issue of ‘private Whatsapp chat leaks’, pertaining to the chats that had resulted in the NCB summons for Deepika. He wrote, “The leaking of private Whatsapp chats raises serious questions about privacy? Many have been wondering how was NCB able to access Deepika Padukone and Karishma’s private chat?” Kanwal further inquired, “Can someone be forced by agencies to share passwords with help retrieve deleted chats?”
The leaking of private Whatsapp chats raises serious questions about privacy? Many have been wondering how was NCB able to access @deepikapadukone & Karishma’s private chat? Can someone be forced by agencies to share passwords with help retrieve deleted chats? #Newstrack 8 pm— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) September 24, 2020
Rahul Kanwal’s assertions about data privacy were hypocritical, and even ironic. This is because he and his channel has been at the forefront of exploiting private Whatsapp chats for TRPs. A month earlier, Kanwal tweeted, “Sushant’s family has said they didn’t know about his mental illness. But new WhatsApp chats accessed by India Today show exchanges between Sushant and his sister Priyanka where the sister is arranging depression medicines and telling SSR to have his pills.”
Sushant’s family has said they didn’t know about his mental illness. But new WhatsApp chats accessed by India Today show exchanges between Sushant and his sister Priyanka where the sister is arranging depression medicines and telling SSR to have his pills. https://t.co/FvJXUjmYqY— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) August 31, 2020
If Rahul Kanwal was genuinely concerned about ‘digital privacy’, then, how did his channel not shy away from posting private Whatsapp conversation between Sushant Singh Rajput and his sister Priyanka? In another article, citing private Whatsapp chats, India Today claimed that Sushant’s sister Nitu too was aware of his ‘treatment’ for depression.
In another exclusive news item, India Today had shared private conversation between director Mahesh Bhatt and actress Rhea Chakraborty to ascertain that the latter left the house of Sushant Singh Rajput on June 8.
In the age of social media, senior journalists should be aware that it is no longer possible to fool the masses with sanctimonious assertions and bias. The clearly visible hypocrisy and twitter attacks against a rival channel only highlight their own frustrations and shows that they are not actually concerned about journalistic standards and media morality. They are just upset that someone else, someone new is beating them in the game.