Indian prime time needs a ceasefire

Two of the biggest stars of Indian News TV — Barkha Dutt and Arnab Goswami — are now fighting in full public glare. The gloves are off. And how!

That this would happen — sooner or later — was inevitable. The signs were there for anyone who cared to see. And not many viewers of prime time news were oblivious to these almost impossible-to-miss the signals. 

These were the not-so-subtle innuendos, the in-your-face suggestions, mocking not just the style of journalism and presentation of the other, but also questioning each other’s motives and ideology. Prime time news became an obsession with a section of the English elite. It became a heady cocktail which combined pain and pleasure, ecstasy and agony in equal measure.

News became secondary. So did the debates. As star anchors became gladiators, the viewers began to behave more like spectators in a Roman arena; baying for blood and constantly looking for their evening fix of adrenaline rather than reasoned, well-articulated arguments.

So the writing was on the wall. But that the cookie would crumble in this manner, with such viciousness, I, at least, did not anticipate.

But more on that later. Let’s get the background out of the way first.

It all began with the second term of the United Progressive Alliance government (UPA-II). Times Now was climbing the ratings chart on the back of its coverage of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. And then — out of nowhere — came the Radia Tapes. In the controversy that followed, Barkha Dutt’s credibility took a hit. She has never fully recovered from the episode. 

Those were difficult times for her. The more she tried to defend herself, the more she tied herself in knots. She argued well, with an equal measure of logic and emotion. But she lost out on public perception and there’s no fighting that.

At a time when this country is losing faith in most institutions, including journalism, it’s the responsibility of both of you — idolised and hero worshipped by so many — to uphold the dignity of our profession.

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