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Why Arnab v/s Barkha is the funniest thing to happen to Indian journalism


New Delhi: I didn’t want to write about Indian Journalism: Civil War or as it’s popularly known, ‘When Arnab made Barkha lose it completely’ but I was suitably informed by the IIPIA (Indian Institute of Pretentious Intellectuals and Artistes) that if I didn’t, then I could never hope to become a member of that hallowed institution (FYI, other prerequisites include getting retweeted by Arvind Kejriwal and finding a link between Modi’s rise and any known evil in the modern world).

Since I definitely want to become a member and one day return a state award that no one knew existed before it was given back, I felt it was my moral imperative to try to add my two cents about the biggest event in Indian journalism since Arun Shourie thundered at erstwhile PM Rajiv Gandhi like he was an errant schoolboy who stole his father’s pocket money.

The IIPIA guidelines deign that one should always quote an undeniable intellectual when writing an article so that one’s views, no matter how idiotic, will gain some sort of legitimacy, and the best guy to quote in this case would be former journalist Hunter S Thomson.

Before he became famous as the founder of Gonzo journalism (yes you pervert, the porn genre came later), a 21-year-old Hunter S Thompson wrote in his cover letter for applying for a job: “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity.”

Why is Hunter S Thompson important? Well for starters Johnny Depp played him in two movies and they were pretty awesome.

Now Arnab and Barkha represent two of the different sides of the Indian journalism in English. To be fair, this spectrum probably encompasses .1% of the total population, but since they can speak English and can log onto Twitter, and go through life with the sort of privilege that only monarchs of yore enjoyed. This means that their trials and travails get more than their usual share of coverage (PS – if you’re reading this, you probably belong to this class). But I digress, we must get back to the battle in question.

It all started when Arnab Goswami, our nation’s conscience keeper and Chief Outrage Officer who likes to speak on behalf of the nation accused a certain section of the press of being ‘pseudo-secular and pro-Pakistan’ on his primetime Newshour debate (without taking any names).

Now Arnab has a lot of faults. On air he is uncouth, he draws fallacious analogies between situations that don’t exist, he cuts off voice feeds of panellists he doesn’t like (to be fair hardly anyone likes Umar Khalid beyond JNU), and he didn’t shout at the Prime Minister when he became the only Indian journalist to talk to him. During his show, he sees the world in the manner of a Sith lord, depicting everything in a binary – you’re with me/nation or against me/nation – manner. Those who fall in the ‘against me/nation’ bracket often find themselves on the receiving end of his tirades.

Sitting through one of his shows is as arduous as staring directly at the sun and more often than not, I am forced to switch him off because he agitates those around me who find the shouting harrowing. But I must confess, that Arnab’s show is something of a guilty pleasure.

There’s an innate joy in seeing politicians screamed at for the stupor that permanently exists in India’s vast bureaucracy. Would that qualify as news? Hardly. But it was something to look forward to.

He also refuses to toe the line of major English news channels when deciding an incident and even though he pulls up the ruling party as well, and seems only to worship at the altar of TRPs, there are those that believe he’s too benign to the ruling party, but perhaps those glasses exists because the latter were too benign to the ruling party before that.

Now Arnab’s tirade led to the kind of reaction from Barkha Dutt I’ve seen only once when I informed my girlfriend I’d prefer to watch the FA cup final (yes the mighty Man Utd has fallen, get over it) than go out with her. She said ‘fine’ at first but then I fully contemplated the meaning of ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’.

Barkha who wasn’t even named on the Newshour, started with a Facebook post telling Arnab ‘she didn’t give a toss about his opinion’. The not giving a toss to his opinion saw an op-ed and non-stop tweets on the subject, slamming people who didn’t support her (including Rajdeep who got caught in the crossfire, poor guy, despite writing a piece), and plugging articles that did (which is almost every single journalist who can write in English). Others also jumped into the fray, with Rahul Kanwal proposing to host the two of them for a debate on his channel, obviously.

To be fair it was a sad farce, an indication of just how self-serving the entire industry has become, that we could make the story about ourselves for so long. The fight isn’t haha funny, but funny only to those who have an appreciation for the macabre. It’s funny in the same way as the reality of Donald Trump becoming the president of the USA to access the nuclear codes.

It’s funny because we have completely disregarded the very basic values taught at every journalism school.

That journalism isn’t about the journalist, that the industry is about giving a voice to the oppressed. Barely anything we do qualifies as news these days, and most of it is ‘he said, she said’ outrage that hardly ever matters to the millions of Indians across the country who live hand-to-mouth. We’ve reduced poor people, those who don’t have the means to tweet or speak in English or don’t have electricity to mere statistics, people we only care about when something terrible happens to them like being hacked to death or raped brutally.

What we sadly forget is that there are millions of Indians (it’s hard to put an exact number on this) including children who don’t have access to a healthy meal. Millions of children are permanently stunted or wasted due to malnutrition.

Meanwhile, the basic levels of education and healthcare in the country, that we take for granted, is conspicuously absent in many parts of the country but we simply don’t care about these people because they don’t have a voice or their story won’t capture the interest of our readers. We have become venal, corrupt and everything we accuse politicians of becoming and we are as responsible for the continued oppression of the downtrodden as lawmakers.

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