Times Now’s ‘exclusive’ on the Swaraj-Modi expose had journalists reacting with criticism, even as rival channels followed the story. The final issue was sensational and appears more like a campaign against Swaraj.
Until not so long ago, a story done by a rival channel or newspaper would be ignored by other media houses. But not this time. Journalists are commenting on the way the Sushma Swaraj–Lalit Modi story was reported, on how and why it was broken, even as they run with it.
It may never be clear which among the fastest, bestest English new channel will clearly emerge as victor in the TRP wars. But it’s certain that it’s going to get pretty ugly and out-there in the times to come.
While Times Now went to town all of yesterday with its “exclusive” story on how Union Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj helped current scam-tainted fugitive and former Indian Premiere League chief Lalit Modi obtain travel documents, journalists from rival channels took to Twitter to deride Goswami and Co for Times Now’s reporting on the alleged impropriety.
In some cases it was passive-aggressive and the age-old code of not naming names was adhered to when it came to criticising each other. But not by Managing Editor India Today and Aaj Tak Rahul Kanwal who named and shamed Times Now for resorting to desperate tactics to reclaim its position as number 1. Kanwal also stated how “Arnab makes Fox look like a sensible channel”.
Surely there have to be better ways of competing than through sensationalism, exaggeration & vendetta. Nation must know the truth.
— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) June 14, 2015
When I first visited Fox News in U.S. I thanked my stars that India didn’t have such crazies. Arnab makes Fox look like a sensible channel.
— Rahul Kanwal (@rahulkanwal) June 14, 2015
And that wasn’t it. Early today, Swaraj took a jibe at Times Now Political Editor Navika Kumar, basically stating that the kettle shouldn’t call the pot black.
Look who is preaching propriety – of all the persons Navika Kumar ! — Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) June 15, 2015
Kanwal retweeted it. News X went a step ahead and put out a story with one of the “Radia tapes” where Nira Radia while purportedly speaking to Kumar states how she is friends with Arun Jaitley. (The implication being that it was Jaitley at work.) NDTV in a rare show of solidarity, however, reported that Swaraj had attacked “the media” in general, not Kumar in particular. Thereby also cleverly implying the news break came from the media in general, not Time Now in particular?
We reached out to Kumar for her response to Swaraj and her tweet on Navika. Kumar stated she’d rather not respond to Swaraj and let her story do the talking.
So, what’s got journalists so divided on the Times Now story that increasingly seems to be a pretty clear case of impropriety on part of Swaraj? Some like Rajdeep Sardesai felt that since it was The Sunday Times that first broke the story, it was incorrect for Times Now to claim it was their break – or as the channel stated later “Unstoppable Newsbreak”.
A story broken by Sunday Times of London and Indian news channels take credit? Surely, we have lost our moral compass again!!
— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) June 14, 2015
Sources at Times Now, claim even though Sunday Times broke the story before the channel, the email trail had been with it for more than a week. Times Now had held back the story because it was waiting to get a response from Swaraj and Modi, added the source. However, it was learnt early yesterday morning that Sunday Times will be going ahead with the story so Times Now decided to go ahead with the story without Modi or Swaraj’s response. Times Now broke the story at about 9 in the morning yesterday. The Sunday Times story was also published on June 14. Swaraj responded with a tweet within minutes. Another contention that not just opposition party leaders, but also journalists have expressed is that the story appears to be a plant coming from within the deeply fractionalised Bharatiya Janata Party.
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) June 14, 2015
So now its a fight between journalists with arun jaitley and against arun jaitley. Journalism had to see this day ? Sickening — Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) June 15, 2015
Stories of such political impact can very well be plants but The Caravan Political Editor Hartosh Bal was quick to point that it doesn’t matter whether the story is a plant or not as long as it is true.
when journos speak nonsense. sushma story may be result of BJP vendetta, so? many major breaks start so, issue’s whether story stands or not
— Hartosh Singh Bal (@HartoshSinghBal) June 15, 2015
The final issue that other journalists like NDTV’s Barkha Dutt expressed with Times Now coverage was that it was sensational and appears more like a campaign against Swaraj.
That’s perhaps true for most stories Goswami picks up that tend to be more a crusade against the world than a staid report. Through all of yesterday, Times Now reported on the story with at least four debates centred on it. There were the usual proclamations with Goswami going on about his channel’s “high impact coverage” of the “biggest news of 2015”. And things did become a little hysterical when the channel put out a recording of Goswami’s profile talking to Labour Party Member of Parliament, Keith Vaz asking some really tough questions.
After which Goswami stated that people who give him “unsolicited advice on what to carry on Times Now” could go take a hike. The gloves are clearly off, and this time we’re not talking about politicians. Pictures of Modi “partying” with Paris Hilton were displayed in good measure to prove he wasn’t attending to his sick wife but gallivanting around with the ladies. To avoid cross talk there’s was also a new “rule” Goswami introduced: “Three-Two-One” countdown. “If there’s any crosstalk, I am free to count to three and stop you,” he said. That didn’t work. Goswami’s hysteria and “exclusive” claims aside, most channels did follow the story and will dedicate its prime time to debates on the issue today. Will they find the nuance and gravitas that they felt Times Nowlacked? Stay tuned.
This article has been republished from Newslaundry.com.