Arnab Goswami, ‘The Hulk’ of television journalism, has brought in a new era of news reporting. The editor-in-chief of Times Now, the most watched English News channel is a formidable figure with an ironically calm face. Infamous for his abrasive style of moderating debates, aggressive demeanour, snide comments, and general disregard for etiquettes, he is the anchor of the prime time television show, The Newshour. While rivals on other news channels, choose a calmer, more diplomatic approach while talking to guests, Goswami chooses a rather impolite, aggressive, ‘no-nonsense’ stance, while interacting with the panellists on his show. He mocks, derides and out rightly ridicules dignitaries, politicians, activists, basically anyone who dares to have an opinion different from his.
Accused frequently of hounding people on his talk show, Goswami believes “There was something deeply egalitarian and liberating about being able to ask a question.” The problem is that he doesn’t just ask a question, he repeats himself again and again and again until he gets a satisfactory answer. However uncomfortable the situation gets, Goswami never sugar-coats his words, or beats around the bush. He prods, mocks, and goes to unimaginable lengths till he is satisfied with the explanation. In the context of Indian bureaucrats and politicians who are highly evasive of tough questions, getting an answer is a commendable achievement. He holds them accountable for their statements and forces them to clarify themselves repeatedly as the nation watches.
In a recent debate, Goswami confronted Abhijit Mukherjee, Member of Parliament (MP) from Jangipur and the son of the President of India, regarding his statements made in context with the Delhi Gangrape protests. Abhijit Mukherjee landed himself in a major controversy when he described women protestors as ‘‘highly dented-painted’’. Later he withdrew the comment, and tendered an apology in public. On The Newshour, Goswami asked Mukherjee what exactly he meant when he used the words ‘dented-painted’ to which Mr Abhijit had only one answer “I have withdrawn that statement”. Personally, I feel that although Mr Mukherjee had taken back his comments, he must still be held accountable for making them in the first place. Members of Parliament cannot get away with such nonsense, and it was truly satisfying to watch Goswami grill him. This is the reason why Goswami is such a hit with the urban viewer. He asks the questions we want to ask; he is voice of the ‘common-man’ and makes the public figures answerable to us.
Journalism is about bringing out all the facets of an issue, without taking a side. Neutrality and accuracy are prerequisites for good journalistic pieces. According to Walter Lippmann, an American journalist who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice, “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil.” This is where Goswami’s style goes all wrong. Instead of allowing both sides of an issue to take equal importance, he forms an opinion in the beginning of the show and questions his panel based on that. He continues to face a lot of flak for being judgmental, polarized and biased on certain issues, and this is indeed true. The way he moderates a debate sometimes shows his partiality for a particular side.
So, although Goswami has got us answers, his methods are not entirely appropriate. The aim of journalism must be to bring out the truth based on facts and not opinions. Public figures must be answerable, not just in media rooms, but also in courthouses. So until there is a change in the overall system, Goswami’s style isn’t really helping. Shouting screaming, mocking can only get us this far, it cannot change the world.