Arnab Goswami and the Great Indian Debate
BY RAJA KRISHNA
If you switch on a television in India at dinner time (8 or 9 p.m. there), chances are that the first sight to meet your eyes will be the face of bindi-ed North Indian actress holding a shocked face as the camera zooms into her gaping, screaming, lipsticked mouth to the repetitive cacophony of an artificial thunderstorm—a typical tableau from an Indian soap opera. She has probably just been delivered shocking news. Now if, between bites of paneer, you were to change the channel to TimesNow News, you would likely be delivered some shocking news yourself, especially if you’ve tuned in “The Newshour Debate” with host Arnab Goswami.
That’s because watching the no-nonsense Arnab Goswami host his show is like watching a lion tear into an antelope. His gutsiness makes Anderson Cooper look like Steve Ducey, and the jackhammer-like way he attacks his guests makes Bill O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” look like the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s. When you tune into “Newshour Debate,” that’s exactly what you get. No frilly human interest stories, no RidicuList—just straightforward, clear cut debate (read: yelling) for an entire hour.
Because I was in India during the height of the protesting and media frenzy surrounding the now infamous December 2012 gang rape and violent assault that resulted in the death of a young woman, I had the opportunity to witness the way the Indian media handled the revolting event in close proximity. Goswami led the charge both against the men who committed the crime but also against female representatives from both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata parties, India’s two main political machines, who for some unthinkable reason came onto his show unable to propose any heightened legal enforcement measures or new legislation to combat rape against their own sex in their own country.
Room for Growth
Mr. Goswami represents the cream of the crop of Indian journalism, and his show in many ways represents what other Indian prime-time news shows strive to achieve. Many American shows could take guidance from him as well. Still, while his show is driven by a grounded dedication to exposing the corrupt, twisted nature of the state of affairs in India, Goswami and other top Indian reporters add a certain populist flavor to their reporting to it that displays a lack of maturity in their reporting.
Two incidents occurred during my time in India that solidified this sentiment for me. First, when a god-man / con-man, Asaram Bapu, told his millions of followers that the gang rape victim was just as much at fault as her assailants because she didn’t call them her “brothers” and “beg for mercy,” Goswami was rightfully outraged. He angrily called out the god-man (which takes major cojones in India) and verbally disemboweled any politician who didn’t immediately and forcefully denounce the despicable comments. But then, Goswami went a step further—he called for Asaram Bapu’s immediate arrest, on the grounds of slander, that he had “disrespected women.” Instead of letting Asaram Bapu’s bigotry speak for itself, he lost some credibility on a slam-dunk news story. (Fun fact: the god-man dismissed his critics by asking, “Does an elephant listen to barking dogs?”)
A few days later, a border incident with Pakistan (one of dozens in recent years), resulted in the death of two Indian soldiers. Goswami rightly brought representatives from the Indian military, political parties, peace activists, and high-ranking Pakistani officials onto his debate show to discuss the incident. But instead of giving them all the opportunity to speak, Goswami directed the majority of his questions to the Indian side, allowing them to fully articulate their thoughts and concerns, while asking curt, accusatory questions to the Pakistani representatives, frequently interrupting them, cutting them off—even screaming “Coward!” at them from his seat in the “Newshour” studio. Needless to say, Goswami received high ratings for the exchange, but brought little substance to the India-Pakistan debate, choosing instead to incite the jingoistic passions of his millions of nightly viewers.
Goswami’s tactics are broadly reflected across most major Indian news shows. In part, this is a good thing—when Goswami grills guests, he is the Coleman to David Gregory’s Easy-Bake. After all, the media in India arguably has a much tougher job reporting the truth, earning trust, and gaining credibility than the media in the United States do. But gaining credibility while sacrificing balance is risky business. “Newshour” is lucky to have a voice as loud, aggressive, and intelligent as Arnab Goswami’s, but the program has room to mature into something far more substantive. Why not use the credibility Goswami has built up to present a balanced, less populist view to the Indian masses? If you’re going to yell at viewers until they’re deaf, at least leave them with something to think about.