Public Name Calling Is News


Journalists today engage each other in public media battles. Some accuse the other of not being nationalists. Clearly, something has gone seriously wrong with the profession BY HARSH RANJAN

The weather outside the waiting hall of the minister’s residence in Patna was cloudy and pleasant but inside seated on a big sofa, the atmosphere was distinctly muggy as there was a power cut and the genset had developed some problems. Seated alongside were a few party workers from the RJD, also waiting for the minister. They were discussing the content on the previous evening’s TV news channels, mocking some anchors, their style and agenda.

Ignorant of the fact that a journalist from Delhi was in the same room, their discussion ranged from Arnab Goswami of Times Now to Rajat Sharma of India TV to AajTak, ABP News and finally Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee News.

The depth of their discussion held lessons for any media student or intern. I doubt if the latter would have been able to match their understanding of the media and the skill with which they dissected issues. What surprised and shocked me, however, was their information about the personal lives of our top media professionals, their likes and dislikes, their affairs, their so-called ‘nexuses’ and other vices. I’ve been in Indian news television for over 25 years and many of the people they were talking about were either my contemporary’s or “junior-seniors”, or had been my colleagues at some point, but I was never aware of their personal lives.

So despite the humidity, I stayed put on that sofa listening closely to their comments, criticisms and observations. It was an education.

As the conversation progressed, one word ‘Opposition Media’ hit upon my ear like a hammer. One of the RJD worker’s was referring to Barkha Dutt of NDTV as opposition media, while Arnab Goswami of Times Now was considered Modi Bhakt i.e. ruling media. The analogy to the parliamentary terms treasury bench and the opposition bench was unmistakable. It prompted the thought, is our news TV media so divided to reflect ‘Treasury Media’ and the ‘Opposition Media’? If this is the case, then the ‘Treasury media’ must be on a high, being favoured with lucrative advertising by the powers that be. As for the ‘opposition media’, their role would be to raise a hue and cry on every issue related to the ‘treasury media’ and of course, the functioning of the government.

If the leader of the ‘treasury media’ is Arnab Goswami, then the ‘opposition media’ must be led by no less than somebody of Barkha Dutt’s eminence. And if we extend that analogy, she should enjoy all the perks and priveleges associated with Leader of Opposition

If the leader of the ‘treasury media’ is Arnab Goswami, then the ‘opposition media’ must be led by no less than somebody of Barkha Dutt’s eminence (and practically this is the case). And if we extend that analogy, she should enjoy all the perks and privileges associated with Leader of Opposition (don’t forget Nira Radia).

The ongoing spat over ‘Nationalism’ between Arnab Goswami and Barkha Dutt has triggered a fierce debate on the neutrality of India’s media. It appears the better media is the one that levels the loudest allegation against other media, preferably in public. There are so called investigative stories targeting media houses. Sometimes it goes as low as touching one’s personal life too.

“When Sudhir Chaudhary can demand a ransom and blackmail an industrialist in the name of ‘News’ then what kind of neutrality do you expect from the media group,” asked a party worker. “And what about Ashutosh who colluded and connived with Aam Aadmi Party while being an Editor of IBN 7 and joined the party later. Every editor is working for these leaders, there is no difference,” was the verdict.

In earlier times too, many media houses and their editors were known for their close proximity to politicians. But their opinion never made the front page of the paper, it only appeared on the edit page. But what is happening now is very damaging to media. There are many instances of news being manufactured and videos doctored.

There was more masala from the RJD workers, this time about journalists’ estranged relationships, their assets and wealth, even embarrassing details about their personal hygiene. I didn’t know whether to laugh or close my ears when I overheard that a certain editor of a news channel visited Patna last year to cover the assembly elections, his priority was to get hold of somebody who could buy him Viagra!

This was when I decided to step in. I told them, “look I am also a journalist based in Delhi, whatever you are saying may be correct but everyone has a personal life, besides his professional life.”

The fact of being a journalist does not stop him (or her) from doing what any common person does. The reply I got to shut me up. One of the party workers Mr. Shashwat Kumar said: “Follow some journalists on twitter and you will get the answer...very few have impeccable character. Most journalists have lost respect in the public eye because of their biased attitude…and this is harming society and the nation in more ways than one. The path, which journalists and editors at the top take, are emulated by small town journalists, dividing the media into one which supports the ruling party, and the other which supports the opposition.”

Mr Shashwat Kumar’s parting kick: “Journalist Sahab, your divided media is yielding good dividends for us, it’s our win-win situation.” Win win for the politician evidently. When a politician accumulates big wealth it’s a news for media; what will you say about Abhisar Sharma whose wife an IRS official, is under the scanner for accumulating crores in undisclosed income by helping NDTV,” he asked.

A report carried by a web journal says, ‘CBI is also probing the role of another lady income tax official Ashima Neb, for NDTV account manipulations. According to the latest information sent by the Income Tax Department to the CBI, ShumanaSen is having a gross unaccounted income of Rs.7 crores, and husband journalist Abhisar Sharma is having a gross unaccounted income of Rs.4.08 crore. The IRS officer Ashima Neb’s gross unaccounted income comes to Rs.2.93 crore.

The CBI is expected to register a FIR soon against the lady officers for misuse of their official positions, and also against NDTV under the Prevention of Corruption Act. The case first came to light when a senior Income Tax officer S K Srivastava, revealed the details. He was apparently arm-twisted by the UPA government to keep quiet, was hounded and several false cases registered against him. He was restored to service by the NDA. The duty of media is to highlight wrongdoing, to bring the cold light of reason and debate on national life, to educate and inform. Current trends suggest something entirely different, where the focus is on the battle royal between TV channels. Today, for the first time in media history, a journalist, an editor has not only defined ‘Nationalism’ but is in favour of putting behind bars all those who fail to measure up to his ‘benchmark’.

The ongoing spat over ‘Nationalism’ between Arnab Goswami and Barkha Dutt has triggered a fierce debate on the neutrality of India’s media. It appears the better media is the one which levels the loudest allegation against other media, preferably in public

This is a tragic development given that historically, journalists and media houses have sat at various ends of the pole, disagreed and agreed to leave it at that. Pressmen were united even they worked for different organizations. But in the farce that is being played out today, they are ‘issuing fatwas’ against each other. Channels like NDTV or News World India or even India Today only find fault with the government (NDTV reporters are seen as Leftists, uncomfortable with the BJP’s Hindu nationalism). On the other side are Zee News, Sudarshan News and so on that are clearly pro-Modi. India TV’s close association with the BJP is an open secret (although the channel tries to keep the focus on the news first).

The recent removal of Krishna Prasad as editor-in-chief of Outlook Magazine, for carrying a story on the RSS allegedly taking away tribal Assamese girls to Gujarat and Punjab with the intention of making them Hindus, went viral on social media. The RSS filed a FIR against Outlook and then Prasad got the sack. The other story is that Prasad and the management had been ‘in the conversation for over a year’, there were even rumours of “professional irregularities”. The new editor is also reported to be left in his orientation, so it could well be that the RSS story may not have been the trigger for Prasad’s removal. But it underscores the battle between management and editors.

In another development, Raj Kishore, National Bureau Head of DainikJagran, had to quit after an unpleasant twitter exchange with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Shoma Chaudhury of Catch News, an online arm of Rajasthan Patrika, posted an open letter to the management when she was asked to discontinue.

We must understand that for a publisher, business interest is supreme. Journalists demanding freedom now must realize media is a business enterprise and the editor is there to serve this interest. If he values his freedom to write and report, he must quit and have his own newspaper (or website) as many former editors are doing.


  • Journalists today fight in public, call each other names, even engage in improper financial conduct
  • There seems to be some new found pride in taking sides to the detriment of fair reporting
  • Such conduct only helps the politician and the businessman, with the journalist subservient to both
  • Public-Name-Calling-Is-News

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