It has been exactly a week since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interview with Arnab Goswami went mega viral. In fact, it could not have been anything but that, given that the interview was Prime Minister’s first formal interaction with a media person in 2 years.
Incidentally, it was again Arnab who had conducted a TRP-shattering interview with Narendra Modi prior to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He had also interviewed Rahul Gandhi and later, Arvind Kejriwal, but that is besides the point. Obviously, like the fox crying sour grapes, other media persons either dismissed the interview as insignificant or criticized Arnab Goswami’s style of interviewing or labelled the Prime Minister as being partial to one set of media channels.
Discredited journalists of the likes of Sagarika Ghose in fact asked the Prime Minister to hold an open press conference, before deleting the tweet, overwhelmed by the negative response. A couple of days ago, Arnab Goswami decided to take his trolls head on.
In a strongly worded article, he waved aside all criticism and pointedly ridiculed ‘Lutyens Journalists’ repeatedly. One may not be a fan of Arnab Goswami, his shrill interjections, his disparaging treatment of panelists on his shows, his judgmental attitude, his unwillingness to let others talk and most importantly, his contribution in lowering the quality of national discourse, but one must give praise where praise is due. Arnab Goswami’s no-holds barred reply, exposed the duplicity of some members of the Indian media and has surely won him some fans.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no fan of Indian media, especially ‘Lutyens Journalists’ running English News channels is well known. Many claim that the antipathy stems from the way media treated him in the aftermath of Gujarat riots. For years after the riots, even after the courts had found no incriminating evidence against him, English News channels led by the Barkha Dutts, Sagarika Ghoses, Rajdeep Sardesais and Karan Thapars continued to pronounce him guilty by holding trial by media in their programmes. Obviously, it worked great as a TRP-gathering exercise. Many news channels thrived by regularly inventing evidence that implicated Gujarat Government and Narendra Modi in Gujarat riots. Inveterate liars and frauds such as Teesta Setalvad were converted into celebrities as the Congress government at the centre indulged and patronized these journalists and news channels as a part of its broader efforts against the BJP and the opposition. When the BJP stormed to power in 2014 under the man whose character had been persistently assassinated by these media persons, things began to change. Prime Minister Narendra Modi adopted a no-nonsense approach with media persons. He invented newer routes to interact with the masses directly, bypassing these media middlemen. Mann ki Baat and election rallies became his preferred tools as media, having been cut down to size, began to sulk. Predictably, media reacted by fanning stories of intolerance, communal discord, selectively editing remarks and in general downplaying government’s achievements. FWhile this failed to evoke a response from the government, common people began turning away from news channels like NDTV, Headlines Today and others, seeing through their nefarious designs. With tumbling TRPs and dwindling revenues, many news channels entered a phase of gloom and desperation. It was at this point, Arnab Goswami clinched the interview with the Prime Minister.
One of the main objections that trolls and critics have with Arnab’s interview with PM Modi are that unlike his usual self, Arnab Goswami was mild-mannered during the interview. Well, what else does one expect? Any journalist, whatever be his personal style, would need to be calm and composed while interviewing senior leaders. After all, one did not see Arnab Goswami burst out in laughter while interviewing Rahul Gandhi. As Arnab himself says in his rebuttal to critics, “Frankly Speaking is an interview and The Newshour is a debate, both are therefore different styles and formats”. Critics allege that Arnab handled the Prime Minister with Kid gloves. Those who watched the interview would think otherwise. From Pakistan to NSG, from Swamy to motor mouths, Arnab Goswami covered perhaps as many topics as time would permit. Probably, Arnab could have pressed the Prime Minister for replies had he been evasive. But the Prime Minister himself chose to be frank and to the point, thereby denying Arnab the chance to be himself. Social media, incidentally, had a field day with Arnab’s constant “Mr. Prime Minster”. How else does one address the Prime Minister is beyond comprehension. In Hindi and other regional languages, PM Modi can be addressed as ModiJi as a sign of respect for the position he holds and his age. In English, using ‘Mr.’ is the only tool at one’s disposal to show respect. On being questioned why he was chosen to interview the Prime Minister, Arnab took the cake in his rebuttal, when he wrote ‘Across the world, the first exclusive interviews are given to anchors and channels who command viewership. Not to those who nobody watches. Period.’
For too long, establishment journalists have been used by Congress administrations as propaganda machines. These ‘Lutyens journalists’ were deployed to discredit the opposition, sow the seeds of confusion among citizens and showcase the government in good light. In return, they were showered with foreign travel, invitation to Lutyens’ Delhi’s parties and awards. For years they thrived, in the absence of credible competition. With changes in country’s political ideology, advent of social media, emergence of younger, newer media channels, the hegemony of ‘Lutyens’ journalists’ on the national discourse is getting eroded gradually. Arrival of the likes of Arnab Goswami, might make the national discourse shriller and more unsophisticated, but it will free us from the stranglehold of establishment journalists. As Arnab Goswami brilliantly ended his rebuttal, “Eventually, all of us will be judged by what we do”
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