Indian TV is dominated by three badgering moderators. They could also be called bullies in plainer language. They are, Goswami, Karan Thapar and Rajdeep Sardesai in decreasing order of badgering. Their style is largely similar, they cut off guests in mid sentence, out shout them, are rude, call them names and rarely give in. When they do give in, they do so in different styles. Rajdeep puts his head down and says, you have a point but…, Karan is imperious, while I grant you that but…. And Goswami is so boorish he just moves on to the next guest. There is this thing about ego you see. If the media makes a bloomer, do they apologize? On TV, it is out of the question; in the newspaper industry it is tucked away, page seven columns eight.

Of course Goswami is the best study in Indian TV because his show is so Indian. He dominates the show like a zamindar. He is king. And this thing about ego is again a very Indian thing. On his show, everyone is screeching at the top of their voices, no one is bothered if someone is listening or not and the moderator is trying to outshout everyone else. A fish market is only an approximation. In comparison if you tune in to CNN or the BBC to hear a panel discussion, you get a feeling the guys are attending a condolence meeting or something.

As per TRPs Goswami is king. He scooped an interview with Rahul Gandhi in the beginning of the year and made mince meat out of him. His appetite of course was not whetted, yeh dil maange more as the flavor of the season goes. So he went after Modi. Modi it seems had walked out of an interview he was giving to Arnab in 2007. Arnab must have been looking for an encore. Battle lines were clearly drawn.

It was soap opera at its best without decibel levels hitting the roof, as is the norm at Times Now. At the outset, some ground rules appear to have been laid down. It appears, Arnab was not to be allowed to interrupt when Modi replied to a question. Now for a man for whom such a routine is birthright this would have amounted to break in rhythm. Something like Shoaib Akhtar bowling from a shortened run up. It did seem to affect his flair adversely.

The pace was set from the start. Question on the Varanasi rally was turned on its head by Modi by saying senior ministers had clearly stated there was no threat to him so why no rally. Obviously something there was something fishy. End of discussion on the point.

Came the inevitable question on Gujrat riots. Modi countered by saying do research, compare FIRs, convictions, with any ten riots in the country and see who scores. End of discussion.

A question on Maya Kodnani, the Modi minister in jail was brushed aside by a gentle admonition that the interviewer who was famous for great research had goofed up. End of discussion. All this while, Arnab’s jaw line was getting more and more prominent, maybe out of clenching of molars a little too much. A question on Adani was similarly dealt with.

And on and on it went. A study was recommended by Modi to Times Now to find out how Hindus were being persecuted in Bangladesh. There was a mention of how clarifications were given 30 seconds of air time and accusations were run 24 hours, maybe out of pressure. Arnab very sanctimoniously said, we come under no pressure. Ho ho. And then the lament of how the level of debate had plummeted in this election, this, by the very king of no hold barred debates. Modi was up to it. He said let us go into specifics. The first and weakest one Arnab came up with was how Modi was referring to the UPA government as the maa- bête ki sarkar. Modi countered by saying he was quoting Sanjay Baru’s book. Let us go on, he said, almost rolling up his sleeves like Rahul Gandhi. By the way one wonders why Rahul Gandhi does not wear half sleeve kurtas like Modi, maybe that would amount to admitting sartorially at least Modi is ahead.

To cut a long story short, even at the risk of a little exaggeration, Modi did to Arnab what Arnab did to Rahul. But then that is the law of nature. What goes around must come around. There however was an inherent sense of animosity evident in the interview that does not augur well in the days ahead. Both the actors seemed to be engaging in a gladiatorial duel that was far removed from what a civil discussion should be. It was almost as if Modi was convinced Arnab was there to have a go at him and the way he generalized to include the larger media world showed he has a firm idea about how the media is giving him a raw deal.

But here lies a rub. Is the media in India really free? In spite of Arnab’s assertion that his channel is, one has to take that with a bucket full of salt. If one were to go by the World Press Index we are at position 140 in the degree of press freedom out of a possible 180 countries. If it is any comfort, China is at 179. It is a fact that the press has been less than fair to Modi ever since he hit the campaign trail. Maybe it is because most of the English speaking press carries a huge left of Center baggage and is thus critical of the religious right on all issues whatever be the merit of the case. It is possible sarkari influences are at work. The fact remains, discussions, debates, news reporting is all heavily slanted with editorial commenting that is less than fair. What it will portend if there is a change of government, only time will tell but it could well end up in a further assault on press freedom.

And then there are those in our country who are a law unto themselves. A certain Paranjoy Guha Thakurta has written a book, Gas wars: crony capitalism and the Ambanis. The Ambanis have slapped a 100 crore legal notice on the author. A certain Gopal Gandhi, while speaking in a lecture organized by the CBI branded the Ambanis as a parallel state like in a banana republic and is the recipient of a similar notice. Deathly silence in the free press of free India. Not one channel has had the guts to interview these worthies. A biography of Dhirubhai Ambani by Harmish Mcdonald chronicling his short cuts is still not available in India. So also are books on Air India and the Sahara conglomerate. What freedom of press Mr Goswami. It is the law of the jungle. The pecking order is directly related to muscle, financial or sarkari.

Add to that the new sarkar with its socio cultural agenda. Amen. And do not say the badgering trio did not contribute to our slipping from 140 to 160 in the next few years.


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