It’s time to stop blaming Arnab Goswami and analyse how the pioneers of TV media have contributed to this fall

Prannoy Roy (Image credit: The Caravan)

The current obsession of the English and Hindi TV media is the Sushant Singh Rajput case. Thousands and thousands of hours’ worth of content has been aired over the past couple of months.  Reams and reams of content have been written on how a massive waste of time these thousands and thousands of hours’ have been! And most of this written content has one underlying theme – It is Arnab Goswami who is responsible for the fall of the English TV media! With Arnab now overtaking Aaj Tak to become the most-watched Hindi news channels too, the attacks have only sharpened and increased.

My mind immediately went back to something I wrote way back in 2012. Past few years, we have seen many memes that make jokes on how there -10 panellists on the TV screen shouting over each other. More often than not, meme makers have focused on Arnab’s shows only. Well, here is a snapshot from the year 2011.

Figure 1: Snapshot of a debate on CNN-IBN from the year 2011

The snapshot is from then Sagarika Ghose’s show – “Face the Nation”. 8 people debating the Lokpal bill, and the debate ends in 20 minutes! The anchor isn’t in the picture so that actually makes it 9 people debating the Lokpal bill for a whopping 20 minutes. The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha discussed this bill for about 12-13 hours each! Make as many memes as you want; make as many jokes as you want – but it wasn’t Arnab who pioneered the art of filling up your TV screens with multiple people. That fault lies elsewhere!

We all have just seen how an anchor was chided for asking a panellist to focus on the topic (Sushant Singh) and not diver the topic (towards the GDP). There are examples galore can be cited on non-serious issues that have been aired by the media. So, what is the answer to the question on why aren’t seriously debated on prime time? For today, we go back all way to the year 2009.

In May 2009, in an online chat, I asked Dr. Prannoy Roy: “What do you think the media has learned from this election?”.

His full reply is in the snapshot below. The relevant line from his answer is this – “serious issues like hunger or unemployment do not come into focus because these are hard to sensationalise.

Figure 2: Snapshot of an online chat with Dr. Prannoy Roy in the year 2009

Back in 2009, Dr Prannoy Roy was one of the most powerful media owners (perhaps the most powerful too!). NDTV was at their peak and was often the go-to channel for thousands of viewers. Some surveys even indicated that they had a 60% market share. NDTV’s anchors were involved in cabinet berth negotiations. And the words of the then most powerful media organization – “hunger or unemployment are hard to sensationalise”.

Also, don’t miss this in his answer – “So media needs to learn to focus on real issues during campaigning“. And this was the year 2009. I don’t have to tell you, the smart viewer, how absolutely nothing changed from the year 2009. It only got worse with every passing year. So, make as many memes as you want; make as many jokes as you want – but it wasn’t Arnab who pioneered the art of filling up your TV screens with multiple people. That fault lies elsewhere!

When Obama came to India in 2010, another sermonizer Bhupendra Chaubey gave us a very critical piece of news that redefined the political paradigm of our country – “Gursharan Kaur and Sonia Gandhi were wearing a similar colour saree, a sort of red colour”.

In February 2012, the media conducted day-long debates on a Supreme Court Judgment. The biggest sermonizer of them all, Rajdeep Sardesai was at the forefront of conducting the debates the whole day. And he tweets late into the night that “Reading SC judgement on the way back from office.” And when questioned how he conducted debates the entire day without even reading the judgment, he replies “read the main points in the day. now reading the fine print. the devil often in the detail!”

Who amongst us can forget how Sagarika Ghose faked an entire interview with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in the year 2011? Who amongst us can forget how she first tried to brazen it out and later issued a small apology on TV? What can be worse than faking an interview? What can be more damaging than cheating your viewers?

There is no dearth of many such examples (dearth of coverage of important debates in Parliament, linking the sterling and pioneering discovery of Higgs Boson to Internet Hindus, falsely accusing people of murder etc). Prannoy Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose, Barkha Dutt – these were popular names during the times of the rise of the reach of English TV media. These were powerful names with clout in the corridors of power. At the peak of their power, each one of them has sermonized on what ails the very same media they are pioneers of!

Journalism needs to rediscover its soul – Rajdeep Sardesai (2012). Rajdeep was disillusioned with journalism when he has owned a powerful media channel in 2012. After 2012, Rajdeep has gone on to get violent on the streets, conducted extremely ill-prepared interviews with senior politicians, announced the death of a former President of India while he was alive, got called out by many interviewees for his boorish nature and yet survives in the industry!

I don’t watch English news anymore. In fact, haven’t watched any channel for many years. I am not a fan of loud debates. I am not a fan of Arnab Goswami, just like I am no more a fan of Rajdeep and Prannoy. I have written against their style of coverage extensively, even rejecting an invite for a “debate” on NDTV back in 2012!

The chicanery, lies, agenda and incompetence of some big names in the TV media have been first exposed by ordinary people. They continue to be on the forefront to do so. So, make as many memes as you want; make as many jokes as you want – but it isn’t Arnab who is responsible for the situation in the TV media. Those who pioneered this fall must stop faking their concern and also stop sermonizing us. Because facts speak otherwise!

S. Sudhir Kumar: Obsessive eater, Compulsive sleeper, Repulsive Writer