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Angry Young Anchor


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[stextbox id=”info”]After becoming a brand bigger than the channel he worked for, Arnab Goswami moves on even as the competition is still cursing him[/stextbox]

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here was television news before Arnab Goswami entered the scene. In fact, in the NDTV hierarchy, Arnab was relatively junior to ‘stars’ like Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt. He was not even a regular anchor. When he was selected by the Times Group (Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd) to lead its news channel, nobody paid much attention. It was believed that, given the inherent marketing strength, the ToI group would also run a channel to ensure the reach of its advertisers. Instead, Rajdeep Sardesai-led CNN-IBN created a buzz among the viewers of English news channels. Promoter Raghav Bahl had been successful in launching the business channel CNBC-TV18, which was the unchallenged leader in its segment. In non-business news, he brought in CNN, a well-known brand as partner. And the third ace was Rajdeep, a popular anchor.  Nobody was eagerly waiting for the Times Now launch.

Arnab Goswami did not rush through the process of selecting his hands. Unlike the move to CNN-IBN, there was no mass exodus to Times Now from NDTV, the number one in English news in India till 2005-06. From the very beginning, Goswami chose people shunning bravado and keeping the economy of business in focus. Its launch was modest. It came as another channel competing for the English news viewer’s attention.

In the competitive world of news anchoring, Arnab had to compete with two of his seniors — Barkha and Rajdeep. He needed to win over devoted viewers loyal to NDTV, Rajdeep and Barkha — arguably in this order. The 9 o’clock news slot had heavy weight competition. Here he had to use his skills. He could put to good use his good looks, command over English and meticulous home work. The star anchors were often lacking in these three elements that Arnab brought in. The second factor that helped Times Now was Arnab’s ability to dramatize The NewsHour. Unlike his more illustrious competitors, Arnab was more competent in role playing. In the mould of Amitabh Bachchan who had brought in the Angry Young Man in Indian films, Arnab became the archetypal Indian ranting against the ill treatments meted out by those in authority. They loved somebody to grill the representatives of the system on their behalf. Like Amitabh in movies of the 1970s, there was Arnab of post-2006 news television.

What is more, Arnab did not have a baggage of political ideology. This suited the promoters of the channel, too. Their flagship Times of India maintained its circulation by steadfastly remaining non-committal to everything other than the market. Arnab’s NewsHour attracted eyeballs, too. For many, The NewsHour at 9 became a ritual. Many criticized Arnab’s loud anchoring, his “nation wants to know” became an oft-quoted joke. Guests felt insulted and left the show or even abused Arnab. Yet, to the average viewer, Arnab’s show remained a must watch. TRPs came, advertisements followed, even guests once insulted came back to participate. What is more, before the 2014 national election, Rahul Gandhi selected Arnab Goswami to have a one-on-one interview. Narendra Modi kept Arnab in the wait list to earmark just about an hour at the last stages of the election campaign. Predictably, the politically savvy BJP leader knew it was better to drain out the belligerence of Arnab Goswami than to allow him play the Angry Young Man of news television. Both Congress and BJP campaigns accepted Arnab’s dominance and used it to suit their campaign needs.

With ratings and increased flow of advertisements came scorns, particularly from fellow journalists who had lost out in the competition. Arnab’s market-centric news anchoring without any commitment to any ideology or any leader and loud proclamation of his own honesty did not suit his rivals who had espoused certain causes or personalities, were seen socializing with many and even rumoured to be currying favour from many. Arnab proved to be a threat to their success. How can one single individual change the rule of the news TV game? They could neither imitate him nor create a new style to attract attention. They enjoyed it when guests attacked Arnab on the show, some even calling him “jingoist and divisive”. But those are good drama, worth spending an hour, no less entertaining than a soap opera. Arnab brought in a new style to TV discussions — the style of street brawls.

The detractors failed to realize the potent weapons Arnab used. He did not always rush for the most sought after person to project, but even opted for one at the receiving end of media ire. A case in point was his interview with Mamata Banerjee when she was on an indefinite hunger strike in Kolkata. At that time, Mamata was considered a pariah who was spoiling West Bengal’s chance to industrialize by opposing land acquisition at Singur. This uncanny sense of what news will be watched saw Arnab taking up cudgels of late on behalf of Prime Minister Modi and his policies. The disgust of a large section of viewers with the one-sided attack on a popular Prime Minister saw Arnab turning to the other extreme. This created new enemies and some terrorist outfits threatened him.

The consensus on Arnab has been summed up by First Post, a web paper run by the rival IBN channel: “Arnab Goswami is a deeply polarizing figure. Maybe much more than the country’s Prime Minister. And it’s not without reason that he causes such fissures (and jokes) within the media community and beyond. Many genuinely dislike him for his loud, arrogant and brash behaviour on television. Others lament his lack of knowledge or his unrestrained approach in taking on issues of the day.”

The very fact that so many from media hate him illustrates that Arnab Goswami has been successful in what he has been doing. The question that needs to be answered is whether he will manage to create an equally successful TV brand without the support from the deep pocket and reach of the Time Group? The other question is if, without Arnab’s NewsHour, Times Now will continue to enjoy its market share. For both, Arnab and Times Now, only time will give the verdict.

[stextbox id=”alert” caption=”Editor’s note”]Arnab Goswami does not come from an apolitical family. His paternal grandfather was a leader of the Congress while his maternal grandfather Gauri was a communist. His father Col (Retd.) Manoranjan Goswami fought the 1998 Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket. Nearer in the past, Siddhartha Bhattacharya, his maternal uncle, headed the Assam unit of the BJP before Sarbananda Sonowal replaced him last year.

Times Now was not untouched by the Radia Tapes scandal. Its political editor Navika Kumar was caught talking to Niira Radia in one of the tapes released by Outlook and Open Magazine.

Owners of the Times Group, Vineet Jain and Samir Jain, have been unusually generous towards Arnab Goswami since the day they unceremoniously dropped Dileep Padgaonkar as the then chief editor of The Times of India and, ever since, did not allow any successor of Padgaonkar to build his or her name in the market of journalism.[/stextbox]

Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi

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