Mediaah! Will CNN-IBN survive without Rajdeep Sardesai?

07 Jul,2014


Mediaah! By Pradyuman Maheshwari


Rajdeep Sardesai’s decision to quit CNN-IBN isn’t like that of an employee leaving any organisation. Had he not quit NDTV in 2005, he wouldn’t have not gone on to team up with Sameer Manchanda and Raghav Bahl and set up the channel.


In Bahl, Rajdeep found an able ally and his teaming up with Manchanda, one of the sharpest brains in the business, ensured that the new channel started operations near-instantly. Rajdeep quit NDTV in April and CNN-IBN went on air in December 2005, and its instant success contributed much to Bahl’s fortunes as well as image of being a television news tycoon.


Until early 2008, Rajdeep and his channel were the clear leaders. They had trounced NDTV early and the year 2006 and 2007 belonged to them. Rajdeep was voted ‘Impact Person of the Year’ in 2006 and was clearly the toast of town and the must-have guest in the capital’s political circuit.


However, from 2008, after much fumbling and a really terrible take-off,  Times Now started gaining ground. This columnist, then writing on, commented much to the annoyance of many how Arnab Goswami was a better, more aggressive, news anchor.  If Rajdeep would frown on his shows, Arnab would ask the tough questions. He was bratty, and often abrasive, and represented the mood of the viewing masses.


The November 26 Mumbai terror strike changed things dramatically for Arnab and Times Now.  It was the undisputed leader. Simultaneously there was a sense of outrage against Barkha Dutt, though not as much against Rajdeep, who was equally shrill in his coverage from the terror zone. But then so were most other television journalists, including Times Now staffers.


What emerged from Arnab’s show right then and the scene hasn’t changed dramatically ever since is that there’s little else other than the Newshour on Times Now. The other popular programme is Total Recall, but that’s Bollywood nostalgia.


NDTV has established a huge second and third layer, though other than Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt, the rest of the cabin crew  – Vikram Chandra, Sonia Verma Singh and Sreenivasan Jain – pale in comparison even as they can hold fort for a month or two. Quite like CNN-IBN where Bhupendra Chaubey was an excellent stand-in for Rajdeep on the days he took off, but is he the man who can steer the channel to the top slot amongst English news offerings? Can his interviewing skills match those of Arnab?  The answer is a clear No. Read that in 200 points, all caps.


So will CNN-IBN survive after Rajdeep Sardesai’s exit? Oh, yes, it will. Just as India not just survived but thrived after Indira, the Tatas after JRD, the Aditya Birla group after Aditya Birla etc etc. Also, remember, we have had channels which have meandered directionless for years. Headlines Today, for instance. Or even NewsX.


Headlines Today has seen a fresh lease of life after the entry of Karan Thapar and it will gain more respectability with newly appointed vice chair and editor-in-chief  Shekhar Gupta on air.


There were rumours that both Arnab Goswami and Barkha Dutt were approached by Reliance Industries for the top editorial job at CNN-IBN. Barkha is said to have spent a few days in Mumbai recently and even though she denied the news posted by Sahara Samay on its website last week, many believe she may well accept the job now that it’s clear that Rajdeep has exited. A well-known face like Barkha’s will ensure that Rajdeep’s absence is not felt by viewers.


Meanwhile, a new top deck is reportedly assuming charge at Network18 and an announcement is likely to be made on who will lead the company in the absence of most biggies in the organisation.


Will Rajdeep join the India Today group, as was speculated? Or is he taking time off to write a book? Since MxMIndia doesn’t revel in breaking news or carrying wild gossip , we recommend you look up other trade sites for that. What we would like to reinforce are three things.


1. Had Rajdeep Sardesai not existed or not quit NDTV, CNN-IBN would’nt have been around or at least not happened as early as December 2005. Of the various news channels, CNN-IBN has an excellent reporting team, even though many were retrenched last year.


2. The success of any leader is indicative by how it manages operations after he or she leaves. Prannoy Roy has ensured that. Arnab hasn’t. You don’t want to watch the 9pm bulletin when he’s not on air. Rajdeep has a good B and C team but none of them with the same profile has him


3. CNN-IBN (and IBN7) will survive for sure. But it’ll need a new face soon.  Clearly, money is not going to be the constraining factor for this recruitment. For Mukesh Ambani and Reliance Industries Limited, that’s hardly a worry. What the master and his advisors have to convince the big and famous editors is that they will be allowed to operate in a free and frank manner.  That they will be allowed to carry news which may be negative on them. Now will that will be a tough ask?


There are many who  believe news journalism is doomed with the active entry of Reliance Industries in news media. That, as I have written earlier, is an incorrect assumption. Most of our big publications were set up by business houses – large or small.  Moreover,  we do know of some well-known media conglomerates indulging in corrupt or incorrect practices.


If in the true spirit of business, Mukeshbhai and Reliance Industries do not devalue the brand, there is no stopping CNN-IBN and the rest of the media empire from attaining greater heights. If considerations of the rest of their businesses impact the editorial policies, the Ambanis know what happened to TheSunday Observer and the Observer of Business and Politics in the 1990s.


Interesting times ahead for sure.


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3 responses to “Mediaah! Will CNN-IBN survive without Rajdeep Sardesai?”

  1. Greenearth says:

    Arnab is disgusting . I switch my channel when I see his face.
    Being loud , rude and aggressive is what indians like then I will say they have very bad taste

  2. ChamatkariChor (Baba) says:

    What went against CNN IBN and NDTV is their complicity in trying to cover up the various crimes of the UPA, and their abject failure to identify with or channel the general anger in the country against an obviously doomed government. Their political biases became increasingly clear in the years after 2009. By this time, the social media had become an alternative force providing a different narrative. Unless these channels become a genuine independent and honest voice, they will be relegated to the fringes of the media business, with their fortunes tied to the decline of their favoured political party.

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