The Buck Stops at the LOC

The Buck Stops at the LOC

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Much has been written and flushed down Twitter about L’affaire Barkha and Arnab — the two most popular and — arguably — respected anchors of English News Channels. I too added my two penny tweets to it in jest (another one) .

Frankly, I admire both Arnab and Barkha — each in a different sort of way. Both have their own distinctive styles — which make people either like or dislike them. They say — a good brand has to create an ‘emotional surplus’ — either positive or negative — that gives it recall and attachment. Marketers call it SSP or ‘self-selling provocation’. Lalu Prasad, Mamata, Kejriwal — all have loads of it. So one may not like them — but still cannot ignore them. SSP is also what sets Arnab and Barkha apart from the rest of their tribe.

So, some people may be put off by Barkha’s Oprah Winfrey punched into Christiane Amanpour style of journalism and others are repulsed by Arnab’s haranguing on The Newshour a la Fox News anchors they allege — but none can deny they have become stars in their own rights and command higher TRPs than their peers in the trade. And, that is bound to make a few hearts burn.

The comparisons do not end there. Barkha and Arnab grew as journalists by the dint of their hard work. Neither of them owes their successes to anyone but themselves. Both cut their teeth in the Television industry in a channel, which is reputed to put a premium on pedigree. Though Barkha’s mother, Prabha Dutt, was an intrepid journalist — she was not exactly high profile. Arnab comes from a less known political family of Assam — but his entry ticket into journalism was his Oxford degree rather than family antecedents like some of his erstwhile colleagues at that channel. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable that both would be driven by strong ambition.

Many believe the eminently forgettable film by Aziz Mirza — Phir Bhi Dil hain Hindustani — was a take on Barkha and one of her male contemporaries in the electronic media. People are almost certain that, the character of the TV anchor Nandita Malik in Peepli Live was crafted after her. It would be a cliche — but not wholly inaccurate — to say, Barkha fought a lone battle to make her place in the galaxy. And, to do so — as Meryl Streep had once said — one cannot be just pure gold but need some brass in them as well.

Arnab’s story is a little different. He was never counted among the charmed circle of the Roy Boys (and girls). His boldest gamble was not just in joining Time Now — but create a News Channel away from Delhi, when news in India is primarily politics. To make a success of it -without having the daily access to politicians in the capital was no mean feat. He fashioned himself as a cross between Tim Sebastian and David Frost changing the paradigm of TV News (whether for good or bad) with Times Now TRPs soaring. That was difficult to digest for his “upper caste” counterparts on the Lutyens’ beat.

From hatchet jobs in friendly magazines (that carried scathing profiles of Goswami as a boss and journalist)- to barbs like “you don’t have to shout to be heard” — when Arnab pulled off the coupe with the twin interviews of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi in the closing phases of 2014 elections, he became the ultimate trespasser in the cozy club of Delhi media.

The best (or worst — depending on which side you are) was yet to come. The recent interview with Narendra Modi — his first to an Indian Channel after becoming the Prime Minister — was the proverbial last straw. Apart from Twitter tirades — articles were written on the ‘questions he (Arnab) did not ask”. Instead of critiquing the PM’s replies — the ire was entirely directed on Arnab. That something had snapped — was clear in Arnab choosing a business magazine (not affiliated to any media group or industrial house) to put out his rebuttal.

However, it could not or did not stop there. In today’s charged and polarized world — “if you are not with us then you must be with Modi”. And, that I presume must have got Arnab by his new long hair. There begins the new ditty.

Have met Arnab a few times. I have seen very few journalists who are so polite and soft spoken. Therefore, I — for one — was never taken in by his TV persona — which appeared largely put on for audience effect.

Barkha on the other hand has been more touchy about criticism and reactive — be it on Kargil or Radiia. That could be a function of individual personality, but on screen I have always found her to be dignified and restrained. She is basically a reporter at heart who revels at being out in the field — rather than be caught in debates within the confines of the studio. I think she is one who gets the medium of television better than most.

Strident nationalism is the chosen ‘positioning’ for Arnab — while soft ‘liberal’ could be Barkha’s brand. Both have worked brilliantly — while many others of the same vintage have faded away.

At the end of the day — let us face it — Barkha and Arnab remain the two real stars if Indian News TV. Peer rivalry is common in all professions — especially those when they are high profile public persona. Be it movie, politics, cricket — even among lawyers, academics, scientists and doctors.

So, we — the lay viewers — should not get too worked up over it and sucked into their spat. Just leave it the two of them to spar it out and enjoy the show.

And, there is no need to question the patriotism of either – as the Buck finally stops at the LOC that neither Barkha nor Arnab are likely to cross.

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Modi Town Hall

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