Television

'To not take a position is not a virtue' : Times Now Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami

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A late player in the news game, Times Now sits at the top with its hard news stance and round-the-clock news focus.

The Mumbai terror attack coverage is where the tide turned in Times Now‘s favour as the older players ceded ground. Though it is still a close chase in the ratings race, the channel has stayed ahead at a time when the news genre is finding it difficult to expand.

Some critics have attributed the channel‘s success to its sensational treatment of hard news. Times Now Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami, the architect behind the channel‘s uprise, however, believes that the channel has stayed away from it and also kept a distance from the mixing of news and gossip.

For a channel that just completed four years, the bespectacled Goswami does not hesitate to take a point of view in an obvious case of right and wrong. "In the Ruchika case, we called Rathore a molestor DGP," he argues. As he says, "to be unsure of news is not a virtue."

In a candid interaction with Indiantelevision.com‘s Gaurav Laghate, Goswami shares his views on the definition of news, the relevance and importance of hard news vs sensationalism and the leadership of the channel he manages.



Excerpts:

 

 

Did the coverage of 2611 Mumbai terror attack help Times Now increase its viewership share?

Yes, 26/11 increased our viewership share. We were No 1 even before that but the channel‘s consistent leadership gap grew from then on.

Many people believe that it‘s because of something different that we did during the terror attacks. I can‘t pinpoint at what we did differently because I was live all the time. So I can‘t give a comparative view. But yes, after that there has been an upsurge in our viewership.

If you look at all weeks after 2611, there would be about 60 weeks or so that have passed. And we have been number one in 99 per cent of the weeks since 26/11.

 

 



What data are you quoting? Tam says in 25+ All India market, the competition is neck-to-neck…

We take 25+ AB, 1 million-plus towns. This is the market that everyone considers when it comes to English news channels.

We are 13-14 per cent ahead of our closest competitor NDTV in this market, and we are very happy with this viewership figure. There is no competition in that sense.

 



 

But from the content point of view, have you incorporated any changes in news gathering after the attacks?

We don‘t have to do it. Those who may have made mistakes would have to do it. We did not make any mistakes, so there is no question of making any change or taking any corrective step.

 

 



But isn‘t the overall quality of news journalism declining?

Quality keeps increasing. There is more news content today than there was 2-3 years back. The focus on hard news is coming back. Yes, there are lots of channels which show programmes not centred on hard news, but the excesses are fewer.

There is a strong code of conduct which seems to be working. So, all in all, I think the last 2-3 years have been good for the news channel industry.

 

 



So you think NBA is the right body to tackle the issues of content regulation? Or is there a need for an independent body?

I strongly believe that self-regulation is the only way out. Both the NBA (News Broadcasting Association) and the BEA (Broadcast Editor‘s Association), of which I am an active member, are the best forums to carry out that self regulation. There is no scope for slightest government interference in regulatory processes. And I think there is total unanimity amongst them.

 

 



‘Yes! I had a point of view in the Ruchika case. We called Rathore a molester DGP. Is that wrong? We called the killer of Francis Induwar a Maoist terrorist‘

 

 



Not government interference, but a body like OfCom (UK) may be?

No. I think the way people are regulating right now is good enough. You don‘t need a new regulatory system. You don‘t have to reinvent the wheel. Self regulation is working, it should be encouraged and that‘s that.

 



 

Are news channels running the risk of dipping into sensationalism to shed the image of bland coverage?

I don‘t do sensationalism. I don‘t believe in sensationalism, so I don‘t want to discuss sensationalism as it has nothing to do with me.

But what is sensational and what is not is sometimes a matter of perception. For some people even covering the IPL may be sensationalism. These are subjective matters and I don‘t want to pass a sweeping judgment on it.

 



 

Times Now has completed four years on 1 February. Where do you find yourself today?

It is quite apparent to us in the Times Now newsroom that almost every other English news channel and several Hindi news channels follow us. I find it flattering.

What has changed is that with the leadership of Times Now, people in this country are given the news clearer, faster and more directly than any channel or group in the past has given them. People love that. Whether or not it will work for other channels to copy us, I don‘t know. But so far, it doesn‘t seem to be working.

I will say that Times Now has set totally new standards in news reporting, which some seem to be taking a cue from. And I am happy about that. Besides that news is news, definition of news does not change anywhere.

 



 

And what is the USP of Times Now?

The USP of a news channel has to be news. I don‘t believe that getting 100 people to sit together and talk for 100 minutes is the job of a news channel. Some channels still do it.

In my view that is an antiquated approach. Some people believe that the town hall approach, where you get 100 people to sit and talk, is what a news channel should be doing. I don‘t think so.

So you come to Times Now; it‘s the only place among the news television channels in India today which has news every second, every minute. It works for us.

 



 

So what were the high points in these four years?

In 2007, when we hit the No. 1 spot for the first time, and within 15 months after entering the market, it was a major high point for me and my team.

The opportunity to make a real change in our society, and be part of a campaign that reopened the Ruchika case recently, personally was a very big high point.

I will not call 26/11 a high point, because it was not. It was a painful experience for all of us. But in terms of objectivity of our reporting, it was a high point. My reporters did not hype, did not over dramatize; they were straight forward, to the point and honest. And I think the difference showed. Professionally it was a high point, though personally it was a sad event for all of us.

And when we completed 2009, we won 50 weeks out of 52, it was a high point. You see, to win is good but to win decisively, like we did in 2009, and that too without any major news event besides the elections is a high point for us.

For me, staying there is more important than getting there. It means a lot to me and my team. Biggest high point was that my core editorial team has supported me and stayed with me in every step since launch. Many of them are behind the camera, but they run the systems in the channel and help us stay No 1.



 

 

So what all has changed during these four years?

Oh! Dramatic changes... Times Now today and Times Now when it launched… In fact, there is a new thing happening daily on the channel. On an average, we have introduced over 200 changes, which may be in production style, graphics, shows, nature of reportage… it may vary. I am a great believer of innovation and I think one of the reasons we have won is because we have a very innovative team. But that‘s the beauty of our business which constantly enables us to change according to what‘s happening around us.

That‘s where we stand out from competition. They do the same and they look the same. But may be it‘s got to do with the youth and energy of Times Now and the average age of our team compared to competition. We have got far more energy and passion as compared to any of our competitors.



 

 

‘Some people believe that the town hall approach, where you get 100 people to sit and talk, is what a news channel should be doing. I don’t think so‘

 



Aren‘t you disturbed that the news genre has shrunk as per Tam data?

I am not concerned about the news genre. I am concerned about my share in the news genre. But what it means is that despite Times Now gaining share, the others collectively are losing. So the others should be worrying.

I am very pleased with our viewership trend, because it is just growing. If I go by latest Tam figures for the C&S 25+ AB market, we are averaging about 36-37 per cent channel share.

 

 



But why is the news genre shrinking?

I do not think news genre is shrinking. Everything is relative. The viewership of news channels is greatly dependent on news events. So when there is a major event, you may find a 25 per cent jump and it may not grow further till the next event. But it will not fall majorly. So it means that people who came to you largely stayed with you.

Now within this share, why Times Now is growing and why NDTV or CNN IBN and other channels are shrinking is something they should be worried about. My relative share is increasing week on week. My polynomial is showing an upward curve. 



 

Today there is a lot of gossip shown on news channels. So is hard news dying?

I don‘t think that people will accept gossip after some time. You cannot mix up news and gossip. And so it‘s best if we don‘t cross that line. A lot of gossip passes as news on many channels, but not on Times Now.

Hard news is what I believe in; it is the only thing that we do, and the only reason why Times Now is No. 1.



 

You said your focus is on news only. You don‘t see the need for specific features and shows?

We do specific shows - The Newshour at the very critical 9 pm slot holds almost 60 per cent share. None of the other English news channels come close. Weekend shows like Total Recall is hugely successful. We have feature programming, but yes, I do not believe in diluting news with features. 



 

Do you consciously take an aggressive stance on television?

To not take a position is not a virtue, to prevaricate is not a virtue, and to be unsure of news is not a virtue. You look at all the stories recently, and you ask yourself which channel do I remember? Answer is Times Now.

Take the Australian racial attacks, for instance. Nowhere my reporting was stilted or prejudiced. Similarly, the BT Brinjal case. To not talk about the health issues with BT Brinjal is not appropriate. Similarly, questions raised on RK Pachauri. To report the questions is not taking a position. So the reporting we do is transparent and honest. People see it and accept it. Let viewers decide.



 

But you have very strong opinions which are visible on the screen.



If there is an obvious case of right or wrong, I can‘t pretend not to know what is right and what is not. And if in that situation, I prevaricate or chose to be silent, then that is wrong.

Yes! I had a point of view in the Ruchika case. We called Rathore a molester DGP. Is that wrong? We called the killer of Francis Induwar a Maoist terrorist. On the contrary, you should ask people, who do not call them Maoist terrorists, why they are not calling them that. I am stating the fact.

I am sure in what we do and my viewers are sure that Times Now will not deliberately keep the truth away from them.



 

You say news should be popular and not populist. But isn‘t this a very thin dividing line?

It is a thin line but the challenge of our job is to be sure on which side of the line you are in. There is not a single story where people can say we did anything populist on Times Now.

My concern is not with my competitors but with my viewers. We have never done anything which is factually incorrect, ethically wrong, or journalistically compromised. And as long as we don‘t do any of these three, we don‘t need to explain where we stand.



 

What do you think about investigative journalism?

Ours is not an investigative channel, it is a news channel. There is nothing called 100 per cent investigative channel, neither is Times Now, nor is any other channel. I am no expert in investigative journalism. 



 

But some channels have investigation teams…

I don‘t have. You should ask the channels which have had or have special investigation teams. What I can certainly tell you is that I don‘t take or do sting operations from anybody or for anybody.

 



How much focus is on the website, timesnow.tv?

We have a very successful website. And we are continuing to innovate on it. There is a lot of synergy between Timesnow.tv, Indiatimes and TimesofIndia.com.

We have large viewership through these synergies, which we continue to build and expand. And in the future, this is going to be a major thrust area for us. We are planning to increase and revamp our online content, reach and connectivity. This is the area we will be working a lot on in 2010. 



 

Times Now had taken a very strong stance against Pakistan. But after Times Group‘s "Aman Ki Asha" campaign, it has mellowed down?

It is not true. What we do on the news and what we do on the campaign Aman Ki Asha are not mutually contradictory. And we have done several shows on Aman Ki Asha, of which some have been the highest rated shows.

But it doesn‘t mean that we do not report on what Qureshi or Gilani say. Whether the peace process will really move forward or it is just symbolic - we do both. There is no contradiction in this. 

 



Does the network strength help?

With campaigns like Aman Ki Asha, it does. It also gives us access to lots of quality content. And our news stories sometimes find space in Times of India, purely on merit of course. So there is a natural synergy.

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