A few months back, Indian Army’s highly-decorated veteran and news media’s star defence panellist Major General GD Bakshi(Retd) used the word R****k***a in front of a packed college audience. Last week, he raised the bar and called a co-panellist M****c**d on national television hosted by a female anchor.
Knowing the values and ethos of our great armed forces and its institutions, I am certain that Major General Bakshi must be disappointed in himself more than us. But when a decorated army officer with four decades of experience, both in combat and in strategic planning, starts losing cool on national television, or when a retired Major (Gaurav Arya) starts trolling retired Lieutenant Generals openly on twitter, we know that the slow decay of our society and polity is finally complete.
The question is, how and when did this start. I would say, fourteen years back, in 2006 when The Times Group launched 24-Hour English news channel Times Now and hired a maverick named Arnab Goswami as Editor-in-Chief. The man who single-handedly changed the entire landscape and dynamics of news media in India forever, so much so, that Indian media legacy may well be described as Before Arnab and After Arnab.
Prior to Times Now, the Indian news space was quite boring. Not as monotonous as Doordarshan but there were NDTV and a couple of others. To Arnab’s credit, he made news interesting and he made it interactive by bringing in live debates on split screens with personalities, celebrities and the people whose opinions mattered. This surprised many as it broke away from the good old news monologues and brought wisdom to the people of India who got a chance to listen to different views and opinions.
Times Now and Arnab dominated the news space for some time, but the novelty wore out soon as other news outlets sniffed the potential and soon followed suit, making the competition cut-throat. India kept on adding channels after channels. Channels kept on adding staff and equipment. Equipment quality kept on getting better while the staff quality got worse. Breaking News started coming every minute, even at midnight. Editors, Anchors and Producers became richer. Split screens became smaller to accommodate more guests. And to gather more TRPs, the great Indian TV debate finally turned into a dogfight.
By then, Arnab had become the undisputed king of English news space. And like all kings, he thought he is invincible so he closed his eyes and started dictating his own terms with no regard for rules and order.
During this time, the infamous Commonwealth Games happened in Delhi. Arnab started digging out ‘scams after scams’, humiliating officers and ministers. In the process, he became investigator, jury and judge and started issuing sermons and punishments every day at 9 PM.
This was also the time when many saner people started getting a headache with noise, shouting and fighting during news debates.
Though Indian media’s moral decline was already nearing its peak, this was the time when its absolute annihilation happened. News bosses had realized that maintaining TRPs was a tough job, as all news channels had access to the same information.
They needed something else to remain rich and remain powerful. So they changed course and started cosying up with the ruling dispensation, completely compromising the ethics of journalism, which is the fourth pillar of democracy.
For news bosses and anchors, name, fame, money and power followed but India and Indian media changed forever, where there is no space left for coherent dialogue and objective viewpoint; where there is no space for decency and patience; where name-calling and bigotry are the new normal; where using the most disgusting Hindi abuse for a fellow panellist by a decorated army officer on national television has so many takers.
In the process, many things happened. Kejriwal became Chief Minister. Arnab became a billionaire. Party spokespersons with zero administrative experience became Union Ministers. While the common Indian citizen remained as poor, dejected and neglected as ever.
It is high time we stop allowing ourselves to be ‘used’ for the hate-mongering and brainwashing. The satellite cabal can continue paying and inviting Pakistani Generals for TV debates. Our patriotism is not for sale. As for Major General Bakshi, he is our hero and he would do well by sharing his rich experience in auditoriums, not by shrilling on national television.