Editorial director and editor-in-chief of Times Now, Arnab Goswami, addressed a packed seminar hall kicking off day two of Goafest 2015.
He made the case for ‘relevant’ journalism that does not conform to the ‘old’ journalism rules, and takes a stand on issues that matter. Among the things to let go of, he listed ‘neutrality’ or fence-sitting on such issues.
“There is relevant journalism and there is irrelevant journalism. What we do is what I would call relevant journalism, that people watch, people respond to, that people say represents their voice,” said Goswami.
He recalled a first (bad) piece of advice he received 19 years ago, when he was told journalists should never express their opinion.
“The journalism I follow is journalism of opinion, of taking a stand – not of political correctness, not of fence-sitting. Certainly not journalism rooted in the belief that having an opinion violates some old law of journalism,” he ‘confessed’.
Arguing against the ‘neutrality’ approach, he said, “When facts stare at you in the face, you have to take a stand. Neutrality, when there is something wrong, becomes a weakness because it perpetuates a status quo.”
He added, “When a Nirbhaya or an India Against Corruption happens, if you exercise ‘neutrality’, journalism has no impact. I don’t believe in journalism of no impact. That is self-serving journalism.”
Sensationalism, for a cause
The editor and host of the News Hour responded to several other bits of criticism that the brand of journalism he practices attracts. With the example of the Prince news story, Goswami contended that if the media had not ‘sensationalised’ the story of a daily wage earner’s son who had fallen into a 60-feet deep hole, the authorities would not have addressed the issue as they did, leading to his rescue.
“People talk about Prince as bad journalism. I don’t agree. Those who say that don’t understand the pulse of the country,” he observed. And quipped, “Some channels said ‘This is a Hindi channel kind of story’. What is a ‘Hindi channel story’? A story is a story. It (Prince) was a story of apathy.”
On the contention that his brand of journalism is actually activism, he retorted, “We need to activist journalism in this country, not on political issues but on (relevant) social issues.”
He supported this with the case of a story run by Times Now on a 16-year-old domestic helper raped by an MLA of the BSP in Uttar Pradesh. Rather than registering her complaint, the police had foisted cases against her and imprisoned her. It was media’s activism, Goswami underlined, that brought justice, putting the MLA behind bars and leading to an emboldened victim creating a group to help other such victims. This was a year before Nirbhaya happened.
“In this country, only when (they are) named and shamed that the powerful people who perpetrate injustice ever respond. We are activists in pursuit of the truth,” he added.
Goswami recalled his days as a TV reporter circa 1995-‘96, standing outside courts in Delhi, microphone in hand. He noted that the media had little respect then, being pushed around and beaten up by security guards. Once, for posing a question to the then law minister, the editor said he was asked to go back to the minister and apologise.
“Media did not have the courage back then. Journalism is not the same today,” he noted.
The speaker revealed that another accusation Times Now faces is about the channel ‘not covering the news the way other media does’. He recounted an incident that made him rethink the media’s purpose of existence. On a day when Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt was being taken from a prison in Mumbai to Pune, he recalled how most channels, including Times Now, were focused on his journey – telecasting images of him waving to the cameras. On the same day, he received a call from Bengaluru, from the friend of an army officer killed while fighting on the border. It was pointed out to Goswami that at his funeral of Col. Vasant Venugopal, 42, with army honours, no TV channels except Doordarshan were present.
“I had nothing to tell. We were covering Sanjay Dutt. The stark reality of the mistakes you do comes and hits you,” he confessed. The channel made amends soon.