Saturday, 27 October 2018

The Arnab Agenda (a tête-à-tête with Arnab Goswami)



Arnab Goswami - the man with the black rimmed specs, jet black hair and a black coat. Hailing from a high-end political family in Assam, the man has single handedly revolutionised the media to a form of journalism in which the news anchor wasn't just a silent spectator to the ongoing debates, but was one of the panel, with an opinion to which he clung as he grilled his guests, exposing their hypocrisy. And as his voice roared with "the nation wants to know", he resonated with the vibes of the common man.

What does Arnab has to say about himself, being a man who took the whole nation by a storm? What is the Arnab agenda? Yes, the nation indeed wants to know!


Q: At the very onset, the nation wants to know - how does the Arnab Goswami story really begin? Tell us about your journey of life - your childhood, teenage and college years.

Arnab: My father was in the Indian Army. Hence, I studied in different schools all over India. I changed about 6-7 schools, studied in Jodhpur, Shillong, Delhi, Pune and finally did my Class 12 from Kendriya Vidyalaya, Jabalpur. After that, I went to Hindu College for my graduation.

I had a normal upbringing. I lived in cantonments and used to take the school bus and come back. I was an average student. I majored in sociology from Hindu college, Delhi University. In the three years of my graduation life, I stayed in the hostel and enjoyed college life a lot. It was an important phase in my life because it brought me in contact with people from all over India, from different parts and different backgrounds, and gave me a wide experience about this country. Hence, it was like a melting pot of various cultures and ethnicities.

Q: After that, you chose journalism. Any specific reasons behind this? What inspired you to join the field of media and news-reporting?

Arnab: Well, my Grandfather Gauri Shankar Bhattacharya, a well known literary figure and a very well known jurist, was the leader of the opposition in the Assam Assembly. He was a great intellectual and was the one who first told me about journalism. I had also started writing articles for a paper called “The North East Times.” I used to write a column when I was in college for my mama (maternal uncle) Dhruba Shankar Bhattacharya. He was pursuing law and used to write the column, and when he couldn’t write, I used to do the job. So that’s how I started.

Anyways, I always had a keenness towards writing and expressing, and that became stronger and stronger with time. And when I decided that I don’t want to be a civil servant or a doctor, this was the least possible option.

Q: Congratulations on Republic TV taking over as the most viewed English Channel weeks after weeks. Now coming to the point- many a time we feel that media houses are biased when you see it from the prism of how they report News about Delhi and rest of India. What is your opinion on the Lutyens’ Delhi media houses?

Arnab: Thank you. And yeah, I agree with you.

When I was working there for 10 years, I realized that everything is focused on Delhi. It is like the society has become very feudal, where there are a few people who control everything, including the media. So basically politics, bureaucracy, academic institutions, media and the so-called intellectuals have all come together and formed a kind of club. Now, in a country like India, presence of so much centralization affects us all. It creates a hierarchy where everything based in Delhi is class 1 and everything else is class 2, Class 3, Class 4 and so on.

Also, I think that during 60 years of a Party’s rule, it has reinforced that idea - that everything is controlled from Delhi. You want to get a job done, you want a posting, you want a promotion, you want a contract, you want to achieve something in life – whatever may it be, you have to come to Delhi. All this is really frustrating for people like me. Even while I was in college, I used to realize that it is very difficult for a person to break into that circuit, and yet, one cannot help but work hard and waste years after years trying to do so.

Why should a person be trapped amidst this nexus? Why can’t one achieve what he has to without being ‘connected in Delhi’? For 9 and 1/2 years, I have faced my own obstacles in Delhi. I had a degree from Oxford, I was a good student; yet I found it very difficult to get opportunities in the capital city. Anyway, it is not only about me.

The fact is that the country deserves greater representation, and if we don’t work for it, then who will? Hence, this is what I am trying to do in the media and everybody should do it in their respective professions.

Q: We do appreciate it a lot. But given the political cover Delhi offers, it seems to be kind of obvious that national media should lean towards the capital city. This is in contrast with Mumbai, which also has an influential spot, but lacks the political panorama that characterizes Delhi. What is your thought on that? Do you think that there is a need to reinstitute the media so that the common man gets the type of coverage that he should get?

Arnab: See, I think that the national media needs to move out of Delhi and not the state media. State media will operate from their respective states. Like in Assam today, there are 6 or 7 channels. So in my view, it is only the national media that should move out from Delhi, and when that happens, there will be a greater share of voice for the common man or you will find that at least the perspective will be different.

At present, even if you watch a political debate, you will find that 90% of the participants are from Delhi. This is what I am trying to change, because I feel that there is no reason why someone from Assam or, say, Himachal shouldn’t have as much of a say or participation in the national Debate. After all, it’s a ‘national debate’ on a ‘national issue’. So yes - I think removing the national media from Delhi will be one step forward in that direction.

Q: You have brought about an era of fierce journalism. We have seen that in your debates, you don’t spare anybody - from whatever position or background he/she might be. Since the days of ‘The Newshour’, what change have you seen in Indian journalism?

Arnab: Well, not as much of a change as I would like to see. But I do see a change now, and the change is concerning the nature of reporting. We have a format - we cover 2-3 big stories of the day. We don’t cover all the news in an extensive way. But the 2-3 stories that we pick up, we want them to have a cascading impact. We want them to have a strong effect on other people, and hence, we choose stories that really deserve that kind of coverage.

We have an activist approach to our journalism. We try to reinforce our journalism with a lot of our own opinions. Now, as a result of this approach, I find that many of our competitors are also following our footsteps. This activist journalism is fruitful, because if you take an example of a case, say those of Unnao or Kathua, you cannot achieve the type of result you want unless you pick up the story and hammer it day-in and day-out. If I just pick up a story one day and leave it the next day, then people tend to forget it, including the establishments and the powers. So yes, there has been a change - people like what we do. Also, for competitive reasons, even if not out of conviction but just for market reasons and for viewership, other channels tend to follow the same approach.

Now, if 3 or 4 channels/ newspapers/ digital entities start doing the same thing, then it creates a wave. Also, we need to make journalism reach to a result; otherwise, what’s the point in reporting? Truth is that there is no point of being a reporter if you are just going to speak about who said what. Instead, reporting is about asking the relevant questions. For 70 years in our country, journalism followed the old-school methods. I want to change this; we should start asking angular questions - what should happen? What should be the impact? Activist journalism is the future and I think there is a movement towards it.

Q: You mentioned once, “Hegemony of Western Media has to end.” Are you working in the direction of making a global news network based in India?

Arnab: Well, yeah, you can say so. Right now, I am running an English News Channel independently. We are financially independent and we are doing quite well. But I am not making the kind of money that I need to have a global channel yet. But in the future, certainly in the next 2-3 years, I will launch a global digital video news entity and through that, I will take Indian journalism abroad.

My aspiration is that we should start doing news for the world and I truly believe that we can do it. We have the talent, we have the resources. We just need to narrow down our vision to what we want to do and we need to ask ourselves why we want to do it.

One reason for wanting to do something like this is that from a historical perspective, this will make our generation proud – proud of the fact that we have an Indian equivalent of CNN and BBC. Hence, when we travel abroad, we will have a choice. Also, I don’t necessarily think that CNN or BBC gives a neutral perspective - they give an American or an Anglophile perspective. Just like them, we too don’t plan on being neutral, but our presence will bring a balance to the world in the field of global media.

Q: Coming to our home state, there is a growing sentiment among our youth that because of our predecessors, Assam is in peril right now. As an Assamese, how would you like to comment on that?

Arnab: Without a doubt, it is the job of our predecessors. I particularly would blame one of the ex Chief Ministers of the state who refused to acknowledge that there were Bangladeshis in Assam. As a result, from 70s down till 2000s, there was such a level of influx that now people are saying - you have to live with the problem. I don’t think we should live with the problem and I am fully in favor of sending illegal Bangladeshis back. Hence, we should be bold enough to identify them and take the needed steps.

Q: Do you believe the Bangladeshi government will accept them?

Arnab: Why should they not accept? Today if I fill Bangladesh with illegal Indian infiltrators, will they accept it? They will identify the Indians and send them back. Hence, we should do the same. I think we should assure the strength of government to do that. You might have entered India before 20 years or you might have done so before 30 years - it does not matter what the cutoff date is; if you have entered illegally, you are illegal at any point of time.

You can’t enter the UK with a fake passport or without a passport. So just because you have been in UK for 30 years and you decide to stay doesn’t mean that their Government will agree on that - they will identify you, pick you up and make you leave. I don’t know why we can’t do that in India.

Q: There is a huge debate in Assam regarding the Citizenship Act, the Hindu Bangladeshi and the Muslim Bangladeshi - whom to keep and whom to deport. What is your take?

Arnab: My take is that this Hindu angle is wrong; if you are going to send back foreigners, you have to send back all of them. The whole premise of the Assam Movement was that it was an anti- foreigner movement; you can’t start saying that he is a Christian foreigner, she a Hindu foreigner or another one a Muslim foreigner. The moment you do that, you are adding ammunition to the other side. I am completely against anyone who says that Hindu Bangladeshi should be allowed, because then, you are communalizing the argument. I tell everyone – I am from Assam and I can tell you that problem is not a Hindu - Muslim issue; it’s a foreigner issue. I think all illegal immigrants should be sent back, and to the section that tries to defend by saying you are Hindu and you are coming - that makes no sense to me.

Q: There is also a debate that due to religious persecution in the neighboring countries, these persecuted migrants need to be allowed to stay. What is your say on it?

Arnab: That argument can also be used by Muslims saying that due to lack of resources, due to human reasons, we should allow them to stay. Persecution is not always religious; it can be economic too. Hence, I think that it’s a wrong argument.

Q: Students and youth in Assam often feel that issues concerning the region, say, the Citizenship Bill, don’t get enough space in the national media. Is it due to lack of representation?

Arnab: It is correct, but not due to lack of representation. It is simply because right now, the focus is on the Karnataka Elections. Even people of Assam would want to know about it. But I assure you - the moment the Karnataka elections are over, we will pick up the issue of the Citizenship Bill.

It’s good to do things in an exhaustive way. But right now, we are not in a position to give our full attention to this issue. But I can assure you that from the 16th, 17th onwards, we will put our focus on it. I am aware of it and I have seen coverage on News Live, Prag News and various other local channels. I do follow Assamese channels and I will also cover the whole citizenship angle post Karnataka elections.

Q: You are not on social media platforms. What would it take to bring Arnab there?

Arnab: Well, that’s because I don’t have the time for social media (thanks to my busy schedule). It is not that I don’t feel the need for it; but you know, it has to be two way - in social media, I will have to manage time to respond to people. I am unable even to send replies to my emails. In such a situation, I don’t think I will be doing justice by being in social media.

Q: Your contribution to national media is definitely worthy of all appreciation. But there is a feeling among some people back in Assam that your contribution in rejuvenating the state media is lacking. Do you have any plans to change the course of regional media for the better?

Arnab: Honestly speaking, I would like to say that they are probably right. But I am in touch with a lot of journalists in Assam. I have also worked together with some regional channels. But it is not publicized, as whatever I do is in a professional capacity. Also, I am very busy in the National scene right now. For someone like me who belongs to a middle class background – to go out and launch a channel and make it successful, and also fight with all the big boys isn’t easy (because you know, I am up against all the big corporate houses currently). So you can say that I am very busy handling my own issues at the moment.

Q: The busy man that you are, how do you manage time for your family?

Arnab: No, I am not able to manage time for my family. I should be giving them more time, but I am unable to do so at the moment. This is a phase of my career when I have to work all-out for the next 4-5 years. So after 4 years, I might finally manage to give my family more time (laughs).

Q: Being from the health sector, we sometimes feel that the medical fraternity has become a soft target for the media. To cover up any issue of shortage or lack of enough attention from the government in this sector, the fraternity is often made a scapegoat. What are your thoughts on it?

Arnab: Both the media and the medical fraternity are groups that have a lot of dealings with the general public. It is seen that the common man expects a lot from doctors and health-workers. But at the same time, there is a need to respect the medical profession. Hence, the media should refrain from sensationalizing news related to health sector and doctors.

Q: Thank you so much for your time. We wish you and Republic TV to script more success stories and keep being the voice of the common Indian.

Arnab: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

(The interview was taken on 12th May, 2018 at Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai by team Penfreak for the college magazine of Gauhati Medical College)

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