In a series of tweets on November 23 Vikram Chandra, the Executive Director and an anchor at NDTV, wondered about the reason for deterioration in TV news. VC who usually appears mild-mannered and soft-spoken on TV is probably genuinely wondering about a serious situation. My instant reply was that it was those from the NDTV stable who had contributed considerably to lowering the BAR. Er... That BAR is Barkha-Arnab-Rajdeep. There are two ways to look at news. You either look at it as public service or as a regular business. The choice defines who the target or customers are. The choice also defines the content, methods and coverage. Without a doubt, since all three channels which these celebs represent have chosen business over public service the model was destined to fail. There’s a golden rule which most successful businessmen in India know: ‘If you want mega success in India, learn to do business with the poor and the middle class’.
When Reliance was about to embark into the mobile communication business Anil Ambani recalled how Dhirubhai had told him: “We must find a way that a villager in Chorwad (Dhirubhai’s hometown in Gujarat) can make an STD call in 40paise”. Do NDTV, TimesNow or CNN-IBN look like they want to deal with any guys like that? I have often joked that channels like NDTV and CNN-IBN are meant for those with a mini-bar at home. Calling these channels ‘News Channels’ is like calling Cosmopolitan or Vogue newspapers. The mindless debates, Bollywood, tamashas, slanted news items, nothing-to-fill for 24 hour news channels but repeats were bound to cause damage.
These channels were simply driven by agendas and money and nothing else. The concept of news as public service has escaped them completely. I can write a model for VC but that can wait. It won’t work unless NDTV comes out of its celebrity-cult management style. They refuse to the see the truth that Barkha Dutt has brought about a lot of negative views about NDTV. No amount of screaming and ranting can alter that. If VC really wants to introspect, that’s where he will need to start. All the three celebrities are not only at odds with the public but also with the social media. Instead of harnessing social media profitably to extend their reach they see it as an evil that threatens them. To the celeb that villager in Chorwad is an anonymous moron whose needs or opinions don’t matter. Rajdeep went all the way to Ramlila to take a picture with Anna Hazare but I doubt you would find a pic with him and some folks in the crowds that had gathered there. And then these folks want all the media platforms to rant: TV, Newspaper, Social Media, Conventions, Seminars; everywhere. So Barkha’s latest Divine rant is titled “To each his own”. Where did it appear? Of course, in Hindustan Times.
She writes about 66A and the arrest of the two girls over their Facebook comments on Bal Thackerays funeral and Mumbai shutting down. I do not recall a single comment anywhere which supported the arrest. But the media, while blowing up this case, overlooks the other similar cases. Ah, I guess there must a special reason for this. But 66A and the case is just a side-story. The main story returns to her defence of her action against Chaitanya Kunte, the blogger who nailed her “Shoddy Journalism” during the 26/11 attacks. I have watched the 26/11 attacks on TV from 10pm on 26/11 right till the end with just a few hours of sleep. Like many, I cannot help agreeing 100% with what Kunte wrote. Yet, Barkha lives in denial. Fine! But cleverly she chooses to pick a point from Kunte’s blog that doesn’t refer to her directly at all. Here’s what she writes:
“Four years ago, I sent a legal notice to a blogger for, among other seriously slanderous comments, suggesting that my reportage on 26/11 was somehow linked to the death of police officer Hemant Karkare. Apart from the irresponsible, sweeping nature of the comments, it was low on facts. As a Delhi-based reporter, I wasn't even in Mumbai the night Karkare was killed”.
That’s truly clever. She wasn’t in Mumbai on the night of 26/11. Nobody said she was. She was there probably from 27/11 onward. And some of the content in Kunte’s blog is an exact reproduction of the transactions Barkha was involved in. Nowhere, I repeat nowhere, does Kunte even remotely link Hemant Karkare’s death with Barkha. Although Kunte has since pulled his blog you can read the particular post in question here or on many sites where it’s reproduced. Far from suppressing his views Barkha only managed to enlighten the whole world about that post with her silly legal action. In fact, Karkare’s name doesn’t even appear in the main post but in an update. Here’s what Kunte actually wrote:
“Update: In fact, I am willing to believe that Hemant Karkare died because these channels showed him prepare (wear helmet, wear bullet-proof vest.) in excruciating detail live on television. And they in turn targeted him where he was unprotected. The brave officer succumbed to bullets in the neck”.
Now that will make it clear to anyone reading it that Kunte was referring to “all news channels” and not specifically to Barkha or her channel at all. So her mindless outburst is based on nothing but fake righteousness. She cleverly omits the main contents of the post which actually reproduces her reporting during the attack. She probably assumes no one will look back or remember the episode and she can get away with some spurious defence of her conduct. Vikram Chandra fails to estimate how much damage this particular episode has done to NDTV not just in India but across the world. Barkha’s contempt for bloggers is all too well known. Twitter and FB were still new to India in 2008 but have caught up strongly. Here’s what Barkha laments further:
“The misogyny of some online discourse is now well established. Earlier this year, writer Meena Kandasamy tweeted about attending a beef-eating festival. The volley of abuse that followed included calling her a bitch, a whore and a terrorist”.
Barkha uses what may be a few abusive tweets to tar the entire Twitter group that is not so friendly to her and doesn’t present her with “accolades” all the time. Now remember, there are media celebs who have called Lord Ram a D***, who have called people “guttersnipes”, who have called “Indian males ugly”. Suhel Seth in DMs on Twitter is a specialist in showering abuses on mothers of Tweeple. He is a friend and regular guest of NDTV. Should we conclude all media celebs, including Barkha, are abusive idiots? Barkha uses such stray tweets, as do others, to smartly follow her agenda of tarring all her critics with the same brush. This is her way of spewing venom at the so called “right wingers” or those not falling within her definition of “secular”.
Is that all? Not at all! A former NDTV colleague of Barkha called me an “anonymous, unreachable terrorist” in a very public forum. I had never written about or even mentioned this guy anywhere. Umm.. I guess if one were Barkha he would have sued the guy. I demolished his nonsense in a couple of posts and he knows it too. But are we at war? Not at all! Today, that person and I follow each other with a lot of friendliness and without any bitterness. Barkha is yet to grow up. Such a huge ego and so much arrogance are hardly suited for public service. For all my stinging criticism Rajdeep calls me “paid-media”. Haha! I laugh but I don’t grudge Rajdeep and I understand his grief. Barkha’s cronies have called me “rabid” and she joined in too. Should I now call her and her followers abusive morons? One doesn’t make a mountain of mole hills and stray abuses. Vikram Chandra doesn’t realise how much damage his celebs are causing NDTV through their conduct on the social media.
Barkha and NDTV haven't come to terms with social media yet. But the one thing they can definitely learn is how to use social media productively. Even Modi uses Google+ hangout and now seeking ordinary folks as brand ambassadors for Gujarat through his FB page, These are surely innovative methods on the social media. In contrast Barkha continues her tirade against unknown people and critics and continues to lose fans for NDTV. If Vikram Chandra seeks to improve NDTV’s TRP or innovate in their business models, his celebs certainly aren’t helping his cause. All his well-intended anguish gets destroyed by irate behaviour of his celebs. Barkha’s latest article has nothing to do with 66A or those stupid arrests. It is another silly attempt at getting rid of the albatross around her neck. Neither Chaitanya Kunte nor Radiagate are going to disappear in a hurry. Anger and arrogance won’t do it, some genuine remorse will.