How the Behind-the-Scenes Processes at Times Now Have Led to Embarrassing Debacles

27 March 2015
Goswami, who some privately referred to as “meethi churri”—a knife sheathed in honey—had come to care so deeply about ratings that he controlled every knob, button, lever and handle on the production line of news that ran through the channel.
DHARMENDRA K KANANI / DINODIA PHOTO LIBRARY
Goswami, who some privately referred to as “meethi churri”—a knife sheathed in honey—had come to care so deeply about ratings that he controlled every knob, button, lever and handle on the production line of news that ran through the channel.
DHARMENDRA K KANANI / DINODIA PHOTO LIBRARY

Yesterday, as the Indian cricket team lost to Australia in the semifinal of the 2015 World Cup, the news channel Times Now created the Twitter hashtag #ShamedinSydney in addition to running tickers stating that the "tame" team had "let India down." The channel's ploy quickly backfired as angry people online defended the team and also created the hashtag #ShameOnTimesNow with which they directed their ire at the channel. In our December 2012 issue, Rahul Bhatia profiled the channel's editor-in-chief, Arnab Goswami, and investigated the workings of the channel. In this excerpt from that piece, Bhatia finds that Times Now's obsession with speed has often led to costly mistakes.

Goswami’s visibility at nine every night obscures the fact that his role in Indian news is much greater, and more pervasive, than his fiery pronouncements during The Newshour suggest. “He understands TV more than he understands news,” the output editor said. “He understands what makes for good television.” Under Goswami’s watch, reporters were instructed to thrust microphones at their subjects and demand answers because it made for dynamic television. (Cameramen at Times Now called it “the running away shot”.) “Doorstepping isn’t new, but no one did it in India before,” said Rahul Shivshankar, who served as Goswami’s deputy until 2010.

In a piece published in Outlook last year, Goswami recalled his early days as a television reporter, when he was “thrilled at thrusting my mic into the faces of the who’s who of Indian politics” as they emerged from a courtroom investigating the 1996 Jain hawala scam. “There was something deeply egalitarian and liberating about being able to ask a question,” he wrote. By asking questions, and guiding his reporters to ask questions, Goswami made the questions themselves the main event. “We put mics to people’s faces,” Shivshankar said. “That was not persecuting and hounding. It was soliciting replies from people who were really very evasive because that was the culture in this country. I think that’s changed for the better. I think politicians now know that they need to answer and be more accountable.” The need to be seen asking questions is so ingrained at Times Now that one reporter recently shouted a query at the closed windows of a minister’s passing car, before turning to the camera to explain that the minister had not replied.

Times Now’s visual identity embraced the main philosophy of its editor-in-chief, namely to hold on to viewers, and it quickly co-opted attention-grabbing devices from Hindi news and entertainment channels. “If you saw five windows on Star News, it would appear on our side of the fence very quickly,” the former high-ranking editor said. “Recently, ‘News will be back in 30 seconds’ between news breaks. Or you might have that thing on top [of the screen]: ‘Coming up!’ This is all borrowed from mainstream entertainment and news channels.” 

“I remember our colleagues at Reuters turning in their graves when they used to see or hear some of our packages with all those effects,” the editor said. “We brought in a lot of what was happening in TV soap operas into the way we were treating our stories. We brought in alarmist music and a soundtrack to our reportage.”

Rahul Bhatia  is a reporter. He has worked for The Caravan, Mint and ESPN Cricinfo

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