Let me put a fact out there right from the off – I do not begrudge Arnab Goswami his success, because the man has earned it. No matter what your opinion of him, the fact that you can hear him from windows while walking down a street in most major Indian cities is evidence that he is the top dog – but the top dog of what? Like it or not, television news channels have forgotten a key aspect of their job – the news. Frankly, other than the main shouting topic of the day, if you were someone new to India and watching any of the news channels in the evening, you would wonder why on earth India and Pakistan are exchanging verbal volleys of artillery fire. But rather a verbal joust than real exchanges of heavy metal.
I remember the heady days of television journalism, in Delhi at least. I had (and still have) many friends who worked in television channels, and other than the mad Wednesday evenings at Turquoise Cottage in Delhi’s Adchini, most of these folks did actual reporting work. This was the era of the ‘sting operation’, after all. Whatever your moral and ethical issues with sting journalism (some of them were nothing more than cheap honeytraps, after all) at least they were a damn sight better than getting onto a WhatsApp group and then claiming you ‘stung’ a terrorist organisation. I mean, seriously, what the fudge?
Beyond the sting operations, I used to love catching up with my peers in television, so that we could swap stories of the places in India we had been to. My organisation at the time, for some strange reason, did not want me spending too much time at base and would happily put me and a photographer in a cab and send me off to godforsaken parts of the country – and I loved that, because I got to see parts of India that I would never have otherwise seen. In the midst of these trips, I would have the occasional lifestyle assignment as well. One week I was chilling with the nose-stuffing jet-set in Mumbai on board an A380 that Vijay Mallya had brought down to Mumbai, and the next I was in a farmer’s house in Vidarbha with his emaciated family. How I didn’t end it all, I really don’t know. Maybe it was the alcohol.
I don’t want to rant about the ‘good old days’, because I don’t want to sound like an uncle (although some of the ‘uncles’ I had in the profession did tell me about how they made pages while on acid – but don’t try that). Then again, we did travel across India and foreign countries, and we went out and saw things and did things. That is why I became a journalist, despite it being the last thing I wanted to do when I was 21 – because it was fun, because you could see and experience things that you would not have otherwise seen, and you hoped that what you did see and do could be put into words that you hoped would change someone’s life.
Now, you see nubile nymphets and hipster beards anchoring the news, with extremely strong opinions on a topic which puzzles you – and they haven’t moved beyond South Delhi. These are folks who pronounce political judgments on election results without having experienced anything – and then they move on to the screaming and shouting matches, which makes you wonder just how crazy Indian news television has become. As for the news, as for those assignments that you want to do where you go places, they aren’t important any more. What is important is that some moron had tea with another moron, and that should be discussed ad nauseum, and we must outrage about it – and tomorrow we must outrage about something else and forget yesterday (if you have ever been to a party with a cokedout person, you know just how irritating this constant switching of topics is). And what happens? Does anything change? No.
As I said, I don’t begrudge Goswami his success. The fact that he has spawned ten copycats, though – that’s a problem. Because, somewhere, we lost the news, and that makes me sad.