Veteran TV journalist Ravish Kumar has resigned from his job at NDTV India. He did this after spending more than 25 years with the channel. It would not have been easy. After all, 25 years is a long time in the contemporary era. It’s longer than some marriages last and certainly longer than the hold certain political ideologies have on collective psyche.
What propelled Kumar to make the decision is the stuff of harried conjecture and careful deliberations. And will be in the near future. Was it the erosion of journalistic autonomy? The lack of accountability for presenting/anchoring news which had the indelible stamp of impartiality and balance? Could it have been the imminent alteration in the very character of the channel post its takeover by a large business group? Or was it that NDTV can no longer claim to be the news channel it was once renowned for being?
In my experience as a scribe, having worked in features and news, in production and photography, I have found that it is never easy to say adieu to a job that does more than just help pay your bills. The long hours, the late nights, the tedious commute and the office politics notwithstanding, I loved my job as a full-time journalist and did not even consider it a ‘job’ in the first place.
This is what seems to have made Kumar write about 5,000 words daily for his seminal show at 9 pm on weekdays, day after day, week after week, month after month and year on year for over 25 years.
In my case, there were several catalysts that were strong enough to incite the threat of resignation. A prominent one was the fact that my immediate superior in a national daily published from New Delhi was a bit of a misogynist (and that’s putting it mildly). One example of his obnoxious behaviour in the newsroom on a typical frantic production day was the comment he made about the ‘two-finger test’ to determine whether rape had taken place or not. Even after the Supreme Court had categorically deprecated the two-finger test for rape survivors, calling it ‘patriarchal and sexist’, this person insisted on inquiring, in the middle of the newsroom, surrounded by colleagues of both genders, young and old, whether it was not the ‘best way to determine it (whether rape had taken place)’.
On another occasion, he said to another male colleague, “Well, somebody has to be your father…!” This was in response to discussions over a paternity suit filed by the son of a prominent UP politician seeking legitimacy and due respect for himself and his mother.
The fact that there were other people in the vicinity, trying but failing to stare intently at their computers, tuned in to the objectionable public banter about such sensitive issues as rape and paternity, had no impact on this (much-married with two young daughters) person and his chatter.
Even this was not enough to make me ponder leaving my job at that daily and look for a workplace more in sync with my ideals, beliefs and accepted norms of professional behaviour. There were other triggers, over the years. People, especially another woman colleague, frowning upon my marital status, passing snide remarks about ‘divorcees’ and ‘home-breakers’ certainly affected me but not so much as to quit doing something which I still found exciting and meaningful.
It was only after one particular incident, which questioned my political leanings and was interpreted as ‘deliberate’ and ‘provocative’ that I seriously began thinking about calling it a day. The catalyst was the ‘bent’ a certain article was perceived to have got, through editorial intervention by me. It called into question a lot of things — my professionalism, my competence, my work experience and my political beliefs. The manner in which my ‘mistake’ was milked by those antagonistic towards me left me reeling and making a silent resolve to find another place to work.
I wonder if the same happened with Ravish Kumar. What was the last nail in the coffin for him? What made him sever decades-long professional association and financial stability to take a step into the unknown? While we may never know for sure, it must have been something gargantuan and formidable enough to merit such a course of action.
Comparatively, was staying on, under the new managerial dispensation, more of an ignominy for him than leaving at the right time and knowing when the time was right? Making unwarranted compromises with his ideology, ‘toning’/’watering’ down his political analysis to favour one political party, creating favourability for one through exclusion of news items critical of another, becoming no more than an auto-cue reader with some emotive talent thrown in — which of these (or was it a combination of all or some of them) proved the proverbial tipping point for Kumar?
Straying into the territory of considered conjecture, I am inclined to go with ‘erosion of ideological commitment’ and ‘interference in editorial decisions’ as the most probable reasons for this pivotal move by him. As much as his leaving will impact the nature of journalism and character of news dissemination on prime time TV, I am inclined to agree with a fan of his who said words to the effect — ‘wherever he goes, he will take his audience along’.
Surely, with such a standing among admirers and followers, this TV scribe’s exit should be celebrated more than it is being bemoaned but then, we are all human after all…