This is the week India shot to fame — when politicians ducked taking the vaccine shot and when one news channel, Times Now, took potshots at another, Republic TV, in a public brawl that would be laughable if it wasn’t so ironic.
There is more irony to their case: even as they are daggers drawn at each other, the Bombay High Court has criticised both these news channels for their potentially “contemptuous” coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput death case. The Odd Couple or (es)Strange(d) Bedfellows? You take your pick.
What is this about? Navika Kumar, Rahul Shivshankar versus Arnab Goswami, Times Now versus ex-Times Now. This, after purported WhatsApp chats between Goswami and former BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta, that were part of a Mumbai Police charge sheet against the latter, became public. The chats revealed, among many other things, that Goswami had prior knowledge of the Narendra Modi government’s key policy and strategic decisions — the Balakot air strike on Pakistan and abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. All, apparently, in the pursuit of television rating points, or the TRPs as you would know it.
‘Lowest point in TV journalism’
Times Now could barely contain its outrage: “Lowest point in television journalism”, it tut-tutted. ‘ArnabChatGate Explodes’. ‘TRPs above Martyrdom?’
Its leading anchors Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar then spat out Goswami like something bad they’d eaten. In a virtuoso operatic performance worthy of an Oscar, Monday, Kumar killed him with kindness. She began “on a personal note” and fondly remembered her former boss of 11 years. “(It is) with a heavy heart”, she said, that in his quest for commercial success, Goswami had forsaken the “human value systems”. “(He is) a man I don’t know any more…,” she lamented because he has been accused of sharing information which is not “in the national interest”.
Shivshankar played the bad cop. He questioned Goswami’s “self- interest”, excoriated his cynicism for a “spike in ratings”, accused him of “vulture-like” behavior that could have put India’s “braves” at grave risk…and so on and so forth.
Goswami hit back. He has attacked “anti-Republic TV media”, “anti-Indian channels’’ and of course the “Vadra Congress”, which acted as a “force multiplier” for Pakistan and its Prime Minister Imran Khan who latched on to the leaked WhatsApp messages to accuse the Modi government of using Balakot to win votes. So then it became #Imran Khan versus Republic too.
Isn’t it ironic that the two channels that were always in the same corner on almost every issue have fallen out now? Isn’t it even more ironic that Times Now, which snubs them at every turn, is liberally using and quoting the Congress and other opposition parties — Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Aam Aadmi Party — to claim a “Chorus for probe grows…” against Goswami? Mirror Now was among a handful of channels that covered the Congress’ press conference on Goswami, live, Wednesday.
And isn’t it telling that all those Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders or spokespersons, who came out all guns blazing when Goswami was arrested in November 2020 in an alleged abetment to suicide case, are silent and missing now? Sambit Patra?
Equally fascinating is the fact that barring NDTV 24×7 and NDTV India, other news channels like India Today or CNN News 18, which had gone to war with Republic when the Mumbai Police first unearthed the alleged TRP scam last autumn, are now ignoring the WhatsApp controversy as though it never happened. What will happen next, is anybody’s guess but notice that Goswami often skips the 9pm debate on Republic that he made his own. Hmmmn.
On to some other news now.
Shot for shot
Last Saturday was meant to be a V for victory moment for “Vaccine Diwas’’ (Zee News). We saw doctors, nurses, hospital workers roll up their sleeves and receive the Covid vaccine – from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala.
But we didn’t get to see what we wanted to see: the Prime Minister and his merry ministers, chief ministers above 60 taking the vaccines. Neither did we see a single celebrity (Amitabh Bachchan, where were you?) welcoming the vaccine with an outstretched arm that said, ‘poke me’.
Had all or any of them stepped forward, like US President Joe Biden has, to take the vaccine, it would have instilled confidence in each and every one of us, and made great TV. Imagine the PM standing as the first citizen of India to receive the vaccine, on a live broadcast — ‘Modi vaccine’ would have rung out across channels.
A missed opportunity, if ever there was one.
But as NDTV 24×7 put it, “Pause the politics, let’s talk cricket” and the Indian cricket team’s tryst with destiny. When commentator and former cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar leapt to his feet and cried out, “It’s a four! Rishabh has done it — India have won the series!”, we had found our heroes, Down Under. Wah! Wow!
Overjoyed news channels celebrated throughout Tuesday. Here are the highlights of what they said.
First, the headlines: ‘Indomitable India’ (CNN News 18), ‘Grits, guts, glory at Gabba’ (India Today), ‘Unstoppable India’ (Mirror Now) and the rather tame, ‘Historic win’ (Republic TV). ‘Incredible India’, said Times Now as the tourism promo became the tagline of the Indian cricket team.
Cricket’s pandemic moment: “(This victory) has brought as much happiness as the Covid vaccine.” (Boria Majumdar, India Today)
The improbable TV star: Shailaja Sundar appeared across English news channels to speak about brother Washington and dispense critical comments. NDTV 24×7 anchor: “What did you think of the 6 he hit off Pat Cummins?’’ Shailaja: “Fantastic!”
And lastly, the most quotable quote — in rhyme— that sums it up for all of us: “No guts, no glory/And this is the greatest cricket story”. (India Today).
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