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Bollywood Takes on News Anchors: Will this Showdown Tame TV News?

TV anchors vs bollywood, karan johar navika kumar, navika kumar and rahul shivshankar

Four Bollywood associations and 34 top producers, among whom are also some of the film industry’s leading stars, have reportedly moved the Delhi High Court seeking restraint against news channels Republic TV and Times NOW for “irresponsible reporting”. The appeal mentions the names of four news anchors, two from each channel – Arnab Goswami and Pradeep Bhandari from Republic, and Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshankar from Times NOW. The suit charges these anchors for maligning the film industry’s image through their media coverage, following Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide in June this year.

Those who have filed the suit include top Bollywood production houses like Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies, Aamir Khan Productions, Karan Johar‘s Dharma Productions, Salman Khan Films, Zoya Akhtar and Farhan Akhtar’s banners, Anushka Sharma, Anil Kapoor, and Ajay Devgn’s production houses, among others.

Now that the industry has awoken from its long, deep slumber of inaction, to sue these channels and their anchors, can viewers expect better from television news? Will we see them exercise restraint in reporting on news that is yet to be authenticated? Will these four news faces now rely on objective facts instead of defamatory sensationalism?

Shouldn’t they now assume their essential roles as upholders of the fourth estate of democracy, ie. honest journalism?

According to reports, the producers have claimed these two channels used “highly derogatory words and expressions for Bollywood”, and listed terms like “dirt”, “filth”, “scum” and “druggies” which were used repeatedly. Amid claims of an alleged “drug nexus” in the industry, and the official drug probe related to Rajput’s death, these reporters reportedly made several allegations: “It is Bollywood where the dirt needs to be cleaned”; “All the perfumes of Arabia cannot take away the stench and the stink of this filth and scum of the underbelly of Bollywood”; “This is the dirtiest industry in the country”; and “Cocaine and LSD-drenched Bollywood”.

Sensational Gossip In The Name Of News

We reported earlier how Kumar’s reporting following Rajput’s death often seemed to teeter towards scraping the bottom of the barrel – from showing Rajput’s dead body on-screen to conducting a parallel investigation alongside CBI’s by publicising actors’ private WhatsApp chats – in a bid to make headlines first. Even as an official probe was underway, Kumar and her ilk through their ‘gold standards’ of journalism, were throwing up new angles in Rajput’s death case every single day. And in a manner that disrespected the field of reporting and credible media behaviour.

Other journalists were lamenting the level television news had stooped to, to manufacture headlines as “breaking news.” Shantanu Guha Ray, award-winning journalist, told SheThePeople recently, “There’s a huge desperation among journalists to be the number one, as a result of which they are trying their level best to outdo one another, and triggering nonsensical news – which is called “breaking news.” The media has been completely polarised, split into two groups. Gossip is turning into news. And television anchors are trying to educate each other on how to talk on television. It is a matter of serious concern.”

Also Read: Are TV News Channels Giving Undue Coverage To Bollywood At The Cost Of Other National Issues?

Now that they have been sued, a move that seemed long overdue from Bollywood given the relentless attacks painted against it with a sweeping brush, will Kumar and the others grow a conscience? Under the garb of finding “justice for Sushant”, will she now refrain from running eyeball-grabbing headlines like ‘Drugs, Destruction & Dhokha’? Will she and others like Goswami understand that in journalism, the truth cannot be sought on the back of agendas and malafide intentions?

Unfortunately, that is seeming like a long shot still. Following the suit, Kumar has responded on Twitter, with a defence that insinuates Bollywood is trying to “intimidate” her channel.

Are News Channels Taking Themselves Seriously?

Throughout the SSR coverage, Times NOW, led by anchors Navika Kumar and Rahul Shivshankar, gained access to and displayed WhatsApp chats of Bollywood celebrities, Rajput’s dead body, while inclining itself towards the murder theory. Recently, following the AIIMS medical report that allegedly claimed Rajput’s death was a suicide, not murder, the news channel took a sharp U-turn and on one of its flashes ironically showed, “Will those who cried murder and maligned Mumbai Police now introspect?”

If this is how seriously a news channel is taking itself, how can the audience be expected to treat it with blind trust? Does it not indicate that news channels are only swimming in the tides of whichever narrative is dominant at one given time?

Should they not report with restraint when their own theories are riddled with ifs and buts? Must they not keep their reporting adrift of hints towards conspiracy theories?

Do We Not Deserve Better From News Channels We Pay For?

As far as Republic TV is concerned, we reported how journalist Shantasree Sarkar had quit the channel claiming an “aggressive agenda” being run against Rhea Chakraborty. She said the channel was purposely vilifying her to implicate her in Rajput’s death. Why then must these channels not be questioned? Is it not high time they were held accountable?

Knowing it will drive TRPs, these past few months news channels have plated out gossip, and the audience has relished it. Were we as consumers objecting to these channels when they made overt allegations against Bollywood or were we enjoying them? The hate we were served daily in the name of news, as a total insult to our intelligence, should have been a personal affront to everyone. Do we not deserve better from the channels we are paying for? Do we really want to watch shouting matches held in air-conditioned newsrooms? Some amount of introspection is due for us as viewers too.

How Far Is The Audience Culpable?

In February this year, Kumar was appointed the Times Network Group Editor for Politics, with the responsibility of “political reporting strategy,” according to Newslaundry. And while that is a commendable feat for a woman journalist – to brush up against men in this cutthroat field – can she really be an icon of inspiration for young women who want to be journalists?

Sensational reporting is a disgrace to the craft of professional journalism and its integrity must be questioned by all. They talk because we listen. So are they the ones who are voyeuristic or are they only satiating our voyeurism? Don’t Kumar, Goswami and others draw power from the audience that still hungrily awaits high-octane drama on Rajput’s death every day?

Aren’t we all culpable in giving them the TRPs they are constantly lusting after?

How far are news anchors really interested in delivering truth to the audiences? Do they consider us, the public, a priority or their ratings? It’s the perfect time for us as the audience to reflect on all we have been consuming in the name of news with our dinners every day these past few weeks.

Views expressed are the author’s own.