Two views on Week 1 of Republic

12 May,2017

 

Republic TV: Week 1 In Review 

The stance seems so overpowering that it is beginning to overtake the content itself, writes Shailesh Kapoor

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

He arrived, back into our lives, on Saturday, May 6, 10 AM. There was even a hashtag to mark the occasion. It was called #May6WithArnab. Arnab Goswami’s absence from the small screen may not have changed the politics of India, but it kept us deprived of his unique brand of journalism.

The channel has been on-air for six days now. Here’s a review of its rather eventful first week:

The positives first. I liked that opening speech on May 6. Arnab was like he’s in real life: Candid, warm, even smiling. Wish we saw this side of him more often. Pleasantries done, he came all guns blazing at us, with what has been a regular feature on the channel in the first week: Republic Super Exclusive.

It’s been six days and the channel has covered roughly the same number of stories. There are no headlines, side-news, IPL news, Bollywood news, feature shows etc. Talk about focus, and it’s here to see. This focus makes Republic TV is easily the most unidimensional news brand India has. It’s a differentiator alright. How many Super Exclusives can they find after the launch euphoria is over, will be the key to how well this focus sustains.

The packaging is good, though derivative of what we have seen before. The channel is well-connected and available. The Hotstar deal, just ahead of the launch, is a huge plus. Early number on Hotstar have been very positive, giving the channel a genuine additional platform, which is far from effective than channel apps and websites.

But all was not right in the first week. The first problem was a known, expected problem. The channel evidently lacks a strong second line of reporters. Arnab has been propping many in his team over the last six days, but none of them are seasoned names. They are clearly trying to learn from the man and grow. Which means that they will try and become like him. Which doesn’t work, as we have seen in the past on Times Now.

The second issue for me is a bigger one. Some of these Super Exclusives being “broken” are dated, from a time when Republic TV was not even envisaged, forget being in existence. The most striking example here is the so-called exposé on what Goswami keeps calling the “Sunanda Pushkar murder”.

The said story is based on taped conversations between journalist Prema Sridevi and Pushkar’s staff. These conversations date back to 2014, from the day before and the day of the “murder”. Sridevi was working for Times Now then. She even mentions Goswami in one of the phone calls, as being the person who asked her to meet Pushkar.

Both Goswami and Sridevi were with Times Now for almost three years since those calls were made. He would have done at least a dozen (probably a lot more) prime-time debates on this topic on the channel in that period. But the said tapes never made their way on-air. Whatever be the reason, the material, technically, is the property of Times Now, but is being used on a platform that now’s in fierce competition with it. This one point of ethical departure is difficult to justify.

Many of the Super Exclusives have been based on thin evidence and are more suggested “scams” than real ones. But that’s been the nature of Goswami’s attacks on politicians over years. Not surprisingly, there have been no stings exposing anyone in the BJP so far. It could be a while before that happens.

But what bothered me the most is that there’s even more aggression in Goswami’s approach on Republic, with his stance being more confrontational, to the point of being forced confrontational at times. It’s as if a rebel has been freed of all the clutches he was being controlled by earlier.

Goswami’s style was always abrasive, and there was no need to outdo himself. He was already on the edge, and I fear he may have gone too far this time. Being a voice of the nation and the people is good, but here, the stance seems so overpowering that it is beginning to overtake the content itself. It can easily backfire. We will have to wait and watch.

Early numbers will be good and you can be rest assured Goswami will flash them all over his screen and make it a Super Exclusive too. The first week has been action-packed, but not necessarily rock-solid. Let’s see where this Republic is heading.

 

The Republic & The Others 

The upshot of the launch of Republic TV is that practically every news channel is following Goswami’s example, writes Ranjona Banerji

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The funniest thing on Twitter in the past few days is Rahul Kanwal, managing editor of India Today TV, grumbling that Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV is BJP-sponsored. There may be no doubt that there is a strong BJP link to Republic. But there has been little doubt to the average TV viewer that India Today TV, Kanwal and his fellow news anchor Gaurav Sawant, are exceptionally pro-BJP. Sawant’s investigative report into how UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s pet cows were so excited to meet him will go down in the annals of Indian journalism as a chamchagiri classic. Now that Karan Thapar’s shows are no longer on India Today TV, there remains RajdeepSardesai to provide a semblance of “neutrality” on that channel.

Indeed what seems to have happened to most English news television in India – with the possible exception of NDTV – since the launch of Republic TV is a deplorable race to prove which is the most “patriotic”, that is pro-BJP, channel. The immediate focus for most is therefore Pakistan and the armed forces. The death of a soldier in Kashmir by suspected militants has whipped TV journalists into an enormous frenzy of rage and revenge. The second focus is Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, probably for his unending onslaught on the rigging of electronic voting machines. The third and frankly most idiotic “expose” was Republic TV’s launch – Lalu Yadav. Even a first year journalism student (I don’t hold my breath here) ought to know that the cattle fodder case against the Bihar leader is 20 years old and that he is banned from contesting elections after being convicted. And then there was Republic TV accusing Congress member Shashi Tharoor of murdering his wife. Words fail at the lack of journalistic sense or judgment.

Running through news channels on Thursday night, this is what I saw:

NDTV: Triple Talaq
India Today TV: Kejriwal is a thief
CNNNews18: A buffalo is under arrest in UP
NewsX: Forget Doordarshan, we’ll tell you what Modiji inaugurated
Mirror Now: Don’t drink water in Gurugram
Times Now: Kashmir is burning, ZakirNaik is a traitor
Republic TV: The Army should run the world and no one should ask questions.

What no news channel focused on was the government itself and what it was doing or not doing. Does it bear repeating that the current government at the Centre has been in power for three years now? When Pakistan attacks India, when Kashmir is in turmoil, when there are allegations of election rigging, when there are problems with the Aadhar system, when the country faces drought, when farmers are on strike, when the effects of demonetisation continue, what journalist worth his or her salt puts the opposition under the scanner?

The composition of panels for our nightly “debates” provides the answers. You are lucky if you can find even one government representative on them amidst the 500 screaming guests. At best, there’s a BJP spokesperson. But a party spokesperson does not speak for the government. Though as we all know, in spite of all the sucking up, this government does not speak to the media. The prime minister limits himself to platitudes on a monthly radio show and that’s the best you are going to get.

The upshot of the launch of Republic TV is that practically every news channel is following Goswami’s example. All credit to him there. But by allowing Republic TV to set the agenda, his competitors are losing the ground they had captured after Goswami quit Times Now. Goswami’s “attack all Muslims and support the BJP” approach will necessarily have limited scope, no matter committed anyone may be to the Hindutva system. But that is Republic TV’s agenda and Goswami’s own style. It is not possible to do more than mimic him which is pointless when the original is out there. The rest of India’s news channels still have the option to go their own way without falling into Goswami’s trap.

The next step would be to practise some real journalism.

Breathe deep.

 

 

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