The Newshour will end--mercifully

BY AMRIT DHILLON| IN Media Practice | 03/11/2016
He’s going but the Newshour could not have gone on for much longer. After all, how low, how noisy, how crude, how abusive can you go?


Even if Arnab Goswami had not resigned, the Newshour was not going to be long of this world. The name was a misnomer. It was not news but entertainment, not debate but a blood sport, not information but insult-trading, and not neutral anchoring but one long, exhausting, hectoring, bullying, mocking diatribe by Goswami. It was a cock fight and every show ended not with the death of one of the roosters but the death of reasoned debate.  

But that’s not the reason why it was reaching the end of its shelf life. Other changes were making the format untenable such as unsustainable levels of crudity, walk outs, and guests turning into mini-Arnabs. A curious change has taken place in guest behaviour.  Many people who earlier used to accept being silenced by Goswami began turning the tables on him. 

They spoke to him with as much belligerence as he did and jabbed their fingers right back at him. When not allowed to speak or finish a sentence, they retaliated, with aggression, demanding insistently and vehemently that he let them speak or refused to speak until he had piped down and guaranteed them at least 30 seconds. 

These days, they shout him down. To mention only two, Congress Party supporter, the indefatigable and garrulous Rajeev Desai, in his ad nauseam rants, gives Goswami a run for his money. 

BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi hectors him back.


"A curious change has taken place in guest behaviour."


The complaint that ‘you are a one man show’, ‘why do you invite me if you won’t let me speak’, ‘you are not giving me a chance’, ‘you are judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one Arnab’ are being heard very frequently. 

When a guest refuses to speak until Goswami has lowered his voice, Goswami used to be stumped – though not for long. It is happening all the time now, the latest incident being the other day during a debate on Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal being arrested following the suicide of Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal over his pension. 

A panelist whose name I can’t recall ordered Goswami imperiously to lower his voice before he would answer the question. He kept up this refrain until Goswami had no choice but to lower his decibel level.  

Guests are also becoming devious in their handling of Goswami. (Why they agree to appear on the show in the first place when they must know they will be humiliated is a matter for shrinks to answer). Actor Om Puri was in the dock recently for his tasteless comment last month in connection with the death of soldier Nitin Kumar. 

When questioned over why he backed Pakistani actors when Indian soldiers like Nitin Kumar were  giving up their lives for the country, Puri had said, while appearing on another channel, ''So who asked him to join the Indian Army?’’

When he appeared in the Newshour kangaroo court and Goswami began taunting him, Puri interjected, saying ‘go ahead, go ahead, you are right, you are right’ and other sarcastic remarks (at least I presume he was being sarcastic). 

Goswami lowered his voice and warned Puri not play any stunts with him. But Puri continued the game,saying: ‘’I’m guilty. I’m guilty, I want to be punished, Arnab Goswami’. 

Goswami looked nonplussed. Not knowing how to react to this mock capitulation, all he could say was ‘That’s it?’ A straightfaced Puri continued on: ‘I am ashamed, I am guilty’.

Others guests have used sarcasm too and the point is that this approach does rather take the wind out of Goswami’s sails. It stops the bullying in its tracks. Puri even put on the face of a chastened schoolboy stoically accepting his whipping. You could see Goswami getting frustrated because the debate was not playing out as he wanted.

Another change is that fed up guests are taking off their mics and walking out. I don’t know how many times it has happened but National Conference spokesman Junaid Mattoo walked out this week during a debate on the burning of schools in Kashmir because Goswami would not let him speak.

Even if they don’t storm off, Goswami has started kicking them off. In one of his debates on his demand that Bollywood actors should take a stand against Pakistani actors who refuse to condemn Pakistan terrorism, actress Mita Vashisht in Mumbai was clearly struggling to hear the other panelist, Colonel V. N. Thapar, in the studio. 

‘Do you want to hear my view or do you want me to agree with you’ asked Vashisht. She asked Thapar, or perhaps Goswami, to ‘stop screeching’. Goswami lowered his voice (always a sign of trouble) and said menacingly: ‘Get me loud and clear, you are speaking over Colonel V.N. Thapar. I am taking you off the show right now till you learn to speak with respect to an army officer.’  

Vashisht’s jaw dropped at this and her eyes widened with shock. ‘Oh shut up Arnab’ she said and angrily yanked off her microphone.

But more than these developments, it is the fact that the exchanges are getting nastier and nastier and this is the slippery slope towards the gruesome circuses of ancient Rome.  It is in the nature of these things, that you have to keep raising the ugliness of the tone and comments, a bit like pornography addicts having to move from vanilla sex to all sorts of perversions and configurations in order to get the same arousal. Or ancient Romans going from straightforward chariot races to people being torn apart limb by limb by lions in order to their bloodlust satisfied.


"So we have Goswami’s sadism, guest masochism, people telling one another to shut up, competitive nastiness, and no finished sentences, much less arguments."


This was evident earlier this week, in the debate on Kashmir schools burning, when Supreme Court lawyer Shabnam Lone accused her colleague at the bar, Mahesh Jethmalani, of being in Dawood Ibrahim’s pocket. 

Jethmalini in turn wanted to know how much money Lone was getting from Pakistan and added, for good measure, that she had ‘the mindset of a terrorist’.  Lone was livid. ‘Really? Really? And who are you? Who are you? Shame on you,’ she spluttered.

In January, 2015, Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra kept telling an interjecting Goswami to let her finish her sentence. When he refused, after a long and pointless slanging match, she showed him the middle finger.

So we have Goswami’s sadism, guest masochism, people telling one another to shut up, competitive nastiness, and no finished sentences, much less arguments. In the initial years, this had some novelty value because it was so different. Year in, year out, though, the format cannot be sustained. Fatigue sets in. 

Fans of the TV series The Walking Dead, known for its sickening violence, finally revolted in the last few weeks over the violence rising to a new level of sadism.  To get the same shock value, Goswami would have had to keep sinking further and further till he was rolling around in the mud, inciting guests to punch one another.

But never mind all this; the point is that his lungs, which must have a biological age of 82,could not have taken it any longer.  And it’s good that Goswami will go before dear old snarling and spittle-specked General G.D. Bakshi bursts a blood vessel and before R. N. Singh is wheeled out of the studio having convulsions.  

It was reaching the point where Times Now would have had to cover itself against claims for compensation by asking guests to have their blood pressure and pulse checked before walking into the studio. We were close - so close - to having oxygen cylinders dotted around the studio.

But mercifully, it will not come to that because Arnab Goswami is going, even though, judging by reports about his future plans, it looks as though it's going to be au revoir rather than adieu.  



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