“The game has just begun,” said Arnab Goswami in a 23-second video of his resignation meeting put online by The Quint. He was prescient. A full-scale tournament was in the offing. With a perverse sense of timing, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi was urging the people to be unflaggingly mindful of the Emergency so that history is not repeated, the government gagged one of the more responsible and credible national TV channels.
Within 24 hours, a chief minister, his deputy and an opposition leader were detained. The gag order on NDTV India for revealing details of apparently strategic significance during the Pathankot disaster is unprecedented. As for the detentions, while Kiren Rijiju now protests that he was in the dark, it is inconceivable that the police would detain a chief minister without getting political clearance. Rajdeep Sardesai has already asked, who’s next? When is just as important as who. Is there a government which would not love to turn screens blank at embarrassing moments?
But let’s return to Goswami’s announcement: that the game has just begun. Apparently, this relish-laden phrase was the refrain of an hour-long speech, in the course of which he threatened to give grief to the BBC and CNN via a new independent venture.
This global media bugaboo is at least as compelling as the five other horoscope readings for Arnab Goswami’s career which are ricocheting all over social media, and provides a livelier story. Only the Goswami spoofs aggregated by Scroll are livelier. And the tearful farewells of a stricken viewership, of course. A retired military man tweeted: “Wherever you go, call. There are many dragons to slay.” (What are they stocking in the canteen these days?) These long goodbyes are misplaced, for Arnab Schwarzenegger himself assures all that he’ll be back.
Equally misguided is the belief that Goswami disrupted some left-wing cabal which had taken over media. Of course the world went through a period of left-wing dominance, but this was a natural process of history, which had earlier brought a period of Mauryan dominance, and Sumerian before that and many other fine things all the way back to the Big Bang. The world is now passing through a period of right-wing dominance, which is just as natural. All that Goswami demolished were the unwritten norms of decency and civility which media had accepted as traditional law. Yelling volumes of invective is the new normal.
The belief that the exit of a news personality has never made national news before is also mistaken. It’s just trying to take advantage of poor public memory. But undeniably, never before has a media exit loomed as an existential threat across professions, institutions and callings. Initially, it seemed to be inevitable that Goswami would be the next army chief. And that he would personally lead hot pursuit missions deep into enemy territory.
Or would he turn spokesperson for the BJP, directly threatening his former studio guests? Or, since Jawhar Sircar has considerately vacated the post of Prasar Bharati CEO at precisely the right time, perhaps he would like to annex the public broadcasting space. But then, in a recent interview, Sircar suggested that Goswami would have to kindly adjust to a salary of Rs 80,000. That’s a heartbreaking deal-breaker.
Whatever, the world is a giant oyster. The only competition in the global media space, which Goswami has alluded to, is World is One News, or Wion, a smarted up and made over version of Zee’s English news. It was launched on Independence Day this year and is taking baby steps towards internationalisation. It is an interesting space, in comparison with which domestic affairs look downright depressing.
Consider the state of Madhya Pradesh. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan resurrects the biryani bogey, fulminating about terrorists who apparently fatten in jail at state expense. In Delhi, Kiren Rijiju protests that on matters of security, the people should never question, but only support. And the chief of the ATS tells Srinivasan Jain that the police are within their right to use deadly force against criminals, even when they are poorly armed.
Callousness is catching. Journalists and even some politicians are revolted by a Zee TV assistant producer who has been tweeting that those who choose the wrong side should be dematerialised, that the Sikh victims of the 1984 pogroms were asking for it, that the missing Najeeb Ahmed is a “JNU goon”. Well, what do you expect? We are going through a rough, callous age, when the customary civilities do not matter any more.