In about 24 hours most news channels will probably go into another fit of “Gujarat 2002” and “Malnutrition in Gujarat”. February 27 is the date of the Godhra train burning and consequent events. It will be the day out for the Ministry of Apologies. However, there is change happening in the murky underbelly of TV news business. There is at least something to cheer for viewers. There has been, for some time now, a growing rivalry. In the previous post I had mentioned how TM Veeraraghav gloated his channel CNN-IBN was more “mature” in covering the recent Hyderabad blasts. Something’s been bugging both NDTV and CNN-IBN for quite a while. Yes, you guessed it right; it’s Justice Arnab. Call him Arnaboxious or the ‘Dented & Painted’ rapper, Arnab has indeed become a cult. Whether you like his style or not one thing that separates Arnab from the other crooks is that his integrity hasn’t been compromised as far as I know.
In the past year we have heard some gentle whispers and ridicule coming from members of the Colonial Cousins NDTV and CNN-IBN about Times Now but it’s now more pronounced and more open. A few months back Jonathan Shainin’s Caravan magazine was found ‘bitchin’ in the back row’ about Arnab. Now the bigger celebs are joining in. Some do it subtly, some just bitch about it openly. It had to start all over again with the Chopper scam which has been lately in the news. Around March 2012 TimesNow had made a lot of noise about the Chopper scam and brought attention to it. It was then buried by the GOI until it came back like the ghost who walks. Arnab & Co. were naturally claiming TimesNow exposed it first. He started screaming the same claim all over again of having exposed the Chopper scam this month. That seems to have upset some media celebs. The fun gets better.
One of the measures of how popular a news channel is with people is how few awards it has received. For the establishment circles of Delhi the outrageous Arnab is the son they never wanted. If you look up Arnab’s background and even his present location he doesn’t have the Delhi DNA and that makes him a pariah. It started when I noticed a tweet from Barkha Dutt on February 15 congratulating Manu Pubby of Indian Express for breaking the “big chopper scam story”. Pubby broke that story? It sounded like J. Gopikrishnan breaking the 2G scam story in The Pioneer. But I had never heard about Pubby and the greatest expose I had heard from IE in recent times was Shekhar Gupta’s Raisina Hill story. That one is still probably in the courts with some defamation cases. So how come I missed such a breaking story by a journalist in IE? Mind you, I’m writing this without the slightest intention of robbing any credit from Pubby or his standing as a reporter. He gracefully thanked Barkha for the tweet. As far as I could recall it was still Arnab and Times Now who really brought attention to the Chopper scam story in March 2012.
So may be Barkha was merely setting the records right, wasn’t she? Of course! So I tweeted the Bhai-Behen duo (remember IE is a vendor for NDTV with the ‘Walk the talk’ shows) was robbing credit from TN for the Chopper scam reports. In all of this Pubby, as it turned out, was quite modest and removed from these battles. But Barkha wasn’t the first to gently do the credit squeeze. We all know all reports, documents, appointments, resignations, parliament bills, purchase orders, faxes and small chits of intelligence papers pass through Arnab before they reach anyone else. And he never fails to flash those documents at all his panellists and viewers. This is what upsets Rajdeep Sardesai too.
Now Rajdeep, who runs the unofficial Ministry Of Apologies, is usually too busy with seeking apologies from people and probably has no time to look at documents. So he was alarmed that someone was using the documents which were already in the public domain being claimed as “exclusive”. See, documents in public domain can’t be claimed as exclusive, but Salman Rushdie interview appearing simultaneously on NDTV and CNN-IBN can be exclusive. Those are rules from the Ministry of Apologies. So what annoyed Rajdeep? I guess it’s that he just about laid his hands on some telephone conversations between the CBI lawyer and a 2G accused and was showing it as the “Biggest expose of the year” when the Chopper scam broke again. In less than 24 hours Rajdeep’s biggest expose was a distant memory and Arnab was screaming and shoving papers down people’s throats with the Chopper scam all over again. And yes, Arnab continued to claim TN had exposed it first.
Here’s an important question for Rajdeep. If all the documents were in the public domain why didn’t he make any noise about the Chopper scam all this time? In my previous post I mentioned about 800 terror cells operating in this country. Even that is in the public domain. Why isn’t Rajdeep making any noise about that? Okay, let’s forget these. There was this enormous land related issue with Robert Vadra and Rajdeep was largely defending him when Arvind Kejriwal made a lot of noise about it. Actually, the Vadra land dealings were in the news months ago in Economic Times. Why didn’t Rajdeep scream about it? I will you what Rajdeep, since the Cash4Votes burial nobody even expects CNN-IBN to expose anything. People expect CNN-IBN to expose as much as they expect Poonam Pandey to cover. Despite genuine efforts of Bhupendra Chaubey to frequently break news or new grounds CNN-IBN has mostly been just a parrot, just like its colonial cousin NDTV.
So since Barkha and Rajdeep tweeted I looked up the whole story and Manu Pubby had also provided some links to the “breaking Chopper scam story” that Barkha congratulated him for. In response to his tweet I had mentioned that merely reporting events do not amount to an expose. What indeed was reported by IE was that the Italian authorities had opened up an inquiry in the whole deal in February 2012. This wasn’t an investigative report or breaking story of any sort. It was just a report of some event in Italy relating to the Chopper deal. What should be extremely alarming to Rajdeep and Barkha is that they were silent then. Defence Minister AK Antony even ordered an inquiry into VVIP Chopper on February 25, 2012. This was reported as a consequence of the report by IE. (Antony orders probe into VVIP copter deal). So where were NDTV and CNN-IBN on this inquiry? Where was Times Now on this inquiry? Where was GOI on this inquiry? All of them quietly buried it! No one even mentions whether Antony had actually ordered an inquiry or if it was just hogwash. If Antony had ordered an inquiry in February 2012 why didn’t IE, NDTV and CNN-IBN follow up on that inquiry? Any answers Rajdeep? Was that not in the public domain? The answer is simple, the parrots just don’t care.
After my exchanges with Manu Pubby he put up a message for me elsewhere. He was humble enough to admit he never claimed credit for any scam-breaking or expose. In fact all the news channels FAILED in their job. They didn’t ask AK Antony even once what happened to the inquiry he ordered in February last year. It’s only now when the CEO of Finmeccanica was arrested in Italy that the GOI is again chanting “no one will be spared, inquiry….” Blah blah. That’s how your news channels fail you over and over again. And then the petty ones are worried about credits. That Arnab and Times Now have been No.1 for five years and still at the top is upsetting both CNN-IBN and NDTV. So every once in a while the celebs from both channels make some petty ‘jilted-lover’ comments.
Akash Banerjee was with Headlines Today till recently before he quit the TV business and joined radio. In response to the bitchy Caravan article this is what he wrote in December 2012:
What the Caravan’s profile misses out totally is the phenomenal rise of Times Now to the numero uno position from what was considered to be a joke of a channel when it launched. Not only was the mix of news / views / business / entertainment programming a disaster in waiting, the inordinate delay in getting satellite unlinking rights made Times Now a laughing stock in journalistic and political circuits. Times When? Times Then? Times Never? were the daily jibes we cub reporters had to face. When Times Now finally launched (with a massive thud) a NDTV reporter mocked me, ‘This is the channel you hatch after nine months of pregnancy!’ he said. (Ironically both the reporter and the channel in question are not doing so well now)
Akash Banerjee should know. He was with TN before he joined Headlines Today. TN may not be right in claiming exclusives or the Chopper scam specialists. But the contempt coming from NDTV or CNN-IBN is neither surprising nor new. Arnab is now the new legend. He is mimicked in Comedy Central promos, there are video mash ups about him, “dented and painted” have been turned into rap songs. I doubt trying to squeeze credits out of Arnab would do any good for Rajdeep or Barkha. Even the GOI trusts the social media more than their channels.