Arnab NOW wants to challenge BBC and CNN International

MUMBAI: “No news is good news. No journalists is even better”, so said Nicolas Clerihew Bentley, British author and illustrator, best known for his humorous cartoon drawings in books and magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. In India Bentley, probably, would have been proved wrong as Indians --- at least a large swathe of the population --- just cannot do without news and certainly not without Arnab Goswami.

You can hate him, you can love him, you can call him names or you can even say he’s God’s gift to Indian TV journalism, but you just cannot ignore him. And, why not? That’s a question that the nation wants to knowdespite debating it on social media everyday. From being the quintessential outsider to be the top of the pops as the most watched television news anchor on Indian television, it has been a roller-coaster of a ride.

From the point Times NOW was considered a laughing stock soon after it debuted in 2006, to becoming the undisputed leader in the news industry, Arnab’s contributions behind the channel’s success cannot be neglected. Just like a global food brand was born when an experimentation in the kitchen went haywire by accident, it was another such accident --- some would say twist of fate --- that gave India a TV news anchor who’s loathed as much as he’s revered during his daily news show called Newshour, which actually runs beyond an hour.

Not only Arnab quit print journalism with the Kolkata-based The Telegraph after just a stint of leas than a year in 1995 to come to India’s capital city, but he also quit Delhi a few years later to migrate to Mumbai, leaving one of India’s famous nursery for news journalism, NDTV, to take up an assignment with the Times of India group’s TV venture. So much so, at one of time, Arnab wanted to quit journalism altogether.

Yes, you read it right. Arnab wanted to leave journalism. “I wanted to leave journalism 12 years back when I was in Delhi. That is one city that will ruin your courage and leave you with two options -- either quit or to be crazy. I chose the latter,” he asserted at the EEMAX Global Conclave & Awards 2016 to gasps from the swooning audience, comprising mostly young people aspiring to be TV journalists.

But happy accidents do happen.

Feeling blessed to be capable of reaching out to millions every night, Arnab doesn’t shy away from goof-ups or life’s low points. “I did mess up for the initial six months in Times NOW, “ he admitted frankly, “but, the experiences of taking up people’s stories and making the ordinary person a headline and championing him (or her), fundamentally made me realise that one needs to finally go down to the core.”

India’s most watched TV news anchor --- audience measurement data has proved that time and again --- can also afford to be preachy when he asserts for him there’s no shades of grey (forget the 50 shades) but just

right and wrong. “In everything in life, you have to bring it down to the binary. Don’t tell me about the grey areas. Those people who reside in the grey areas are those who are fooling themselves and won’t stick their necks out. Running down my republic (read country) is wrong and I will stick my neck out (to defend it),” he added, which many critics feel is just being pompous.

Often accused of ruining neutrality of news or the non-partisan approach that journalists and news anchor should champion as per gospel, for Arnab neutrality in news is baseless. “I have not dumbed down journalism. Each story that I have done runs a personal risk on me. Behind what seems engrossing, is a lot of heart, a lot of feeling, a lot of soul, a lot of idealism and a lot of risk,” he explained, adding, "Oh boy, did we hear some glasses breaking at some homes of people whom Arnab loves to refer as the `Lutyen Delhi’s privileged lot’."?

And, true to his on-screen style --- where he shouts down panellists who return to his shows despite being shut out at times --- Arnab thrashed the English news media in India by accusing it of alienating people. “They used language that is only available in a dictionary, editorial meetings happened in a sacred space where there is no communication with people outside. When analytical programmes are done, there are more people from abroad than from your own country and they speak in a language that nobody understands. That is what English language journalism had done over the years,”he makes his intentions clear, adding with satisfaction, “But the country is seeing a change.”

There are innumerable anecdotes about Arnab, his style, his posturing on TV and, yes, also his arrogance, but those don’t faze the man who seems to be on a mission.

Recently, Mukesh Ambani, considered one of the most powerful men in India with diversified interests in many businesses, including media, was asked for his views on noisy TV shows and, predictably, the shows he watched at 9 pm. The Reliance Industries boss said, "I watch Arnab and I like him very much.” So what does Arnab feel about such encomiums about him being an influencer and opinion moulder? “I am happy to know that. There is no responsibility that I have on me. If anyone wants to listen, I don’t bring my ego in the way. I do a story and move on,” he dead-panned.

There is also an incident that he himself recollected when Delhi’s incumbent chief minister Arvind Kejriwal asked him a reason for not supporting him or his cause to which Ornob (one of the many names by which he’s referred to on social media) had counter-punched that Kejriwal was a marketing genius.

He has also been questioned about the way he conducted his interview with the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and how he was very `soft’ and `docile’, unlike the fiery role that he essays on Times NOW. But, Arnab sees no problem with such an approach: “Most people have a problem with that interview. They want me to call the PM as Mr. Narendra Modi, but I am a journalist. When you have eight boxes open on a screen (with panellists), I have to shout to be heard. But, when you are doing a one on one, you don’t have to shout.”

That is why when Arnab professed his love for a free media and his dream, one naturally has to do a double take. “I dream of an independent media with a capital `I’and the word underlined,” he highlighted and added that he wished to merge the independent media with the digital with an aim to bring the power of TV directly to the people while breaking the clutter at the same time. In his own words: “All this has to be achieved in the next three years. We will challenge BBC and CNN (International), and there should be no reason why we will not be able to do it.”

Considering Arnab has a view on almost everything and anything --- good researchers, notwithstanding --- his advice to budding entrepreneurs at a conclave was, in fact, quite simple and straight: “Accept your faults, build partnerships, do not compromise on your ethics and do not have too many plans. Most importantly, do not let your ego come in the middle of your dream.” Touche!

No wonder such simplicity at times, which may look so unlike most of his Newshour shows, leads his friends and colleagues to support him. Speaking to, Partho Dasgupta, a former colleague of Arnab at Times TV Network and now the chief executive of BARC, said, “Am very happy to see him succeed in the news business that is not easy. Beyond our professional lives, I know him more personally and know how good a human being he is.”

Despite the seeming on-screen pompousness and arrogance, Arnab must be connecting with professionals, friends and audience at some level. At least the data, popularity (his critics call it notoriety) and personal vouching indicate to that.

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