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Can CNN-IBN regain its glory?

If you pose this question to Arnab Goswami, he’ll possibly say the channel never had a glorious past. But that would be wrong, because for a good part of the last 10 years, Times Now has been given a stiff fight by CNN-IBN.

Around the time the Narendra Modi government came to power, Reliance Industries took total control of Network18. Several heads rolled. Founder-Managing Director Raghav Bahl was the first to go, CEO B Saikumar moved on, as did most of the top deck in the operations of the company. Many went even before the move was formalised, but other than Bahl, the biggest exit was that of Rajdeep Sardesai.

Now, Rajdeep was the whole-and-soul of the channel; it was difficult to visualise a CNN-IBN without him. I thought it was the best amongst the five English news channels in the general elections. Yes, an Arnab scored the big coup in the form of the Rahul Gandhi interview, a Barkha Dutt was excellent on NDTV 24x7 with her campaign trail, an India Today (then Headlines Today) had just got a fresh lease of life with Karan Thapar on board, and Rahul Kanwal was also excellent in the run-up. But Rajdeep’s channel was numero uno .

And then he chose to go on a long break and never quite returned. The channel was orphaned, because he was not just the Editor-in-Chief, but also a co-founder and part-owner, and its most visible face.

CNN-IBN minus Rajdeep was never as as bad as a Times Now is minus Arnab, but it was no longer the same, especially after he was gone for good. There were times when it did well, but those blips were few and far between. We suddenly had a slew of new faces, and for a while even the great Bhupendra Chaubey vanished.

Chaubey may have worked well as Rajdeep’s third line, yet he was never quite the channel’s main man. His Sunny Leone interview recently not only brought disrepute to the network and himself, but the entire community of journalists in India.

The problem of CNN-IBN is more than Chaubey’s existence. It needs an overhaul. It got in Rahul Joshi, until recently Editorial Director of Economic Times , as its CEO – News, and group editor-in-chief. Rahul is a great backroom guy and super for print. Can he work the magic for a network that is crying for a refresh? It’s been a few months since he has been in the saddle, and we haven’t seen any fireworks, the kind we would’ve seen when he was at ET .

The channel is, I must say, not down in the dumps entirely. Though some decisions like continuing to play a Chaubey interview (with the St Stephens principal?) when there was a huge fire at Girgaum Chowpatty was bizarre.

In Zakka Jacob, they’ve got an excellent anchor-journalist.

Despite the fact that it’s Reliance-owned and we saw pictures of the group’s bossman Mukesh Ambani with the Prime Minister on Day 1 of the Make in India jamboree, it was good to see Jacob aggressive with a BJP spokesperson in a debate about JNU.

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On the coverage of the Girgaum Chowpatty fire I was happy to find NDTV 24x7 showing ‘then’ and ‘now’ pictures of the disaster as against a Times Now going on endlessly about the fire and playing the same visuals of the flames engulfing the stage which had subsided half an hour ago. Yes, it was an awful incident, but the fire brigade, police and government machinery swung into action instantly and a major disaster was averted. While it’s important for news channels to worry about ratings, it’s important that they are responsible and do not fuel an unnecessary panic.

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There’s been much angst about Arnab Goswami on the way he’s handled the JNU-Kanhaiya story. While it’s nice to know that he is so passionate about the country, as I guess most of us are, the way he went about damning Kanhaiya and his friends was reprehensible. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone were to find his style of debates as an attempt to stir up emotions and hence a threat to law and order. Agreed the government at the Centre won’t touch him, nor will the State governments. But it just needs someone like an Arvind Kerjiwal or Subramanian Swamy to fuss and the tables could turn.

The writer is a commentator and editor working across media. He is founder-editor at MxMIndia and Happ Post, an alternative news offering. Tweets @pmahesh


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 8:45:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/can-cnnibn-regain-its-glory/article8260247.ece

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