You cannot use #MeToo as a platform to slander: Anand Narasimhan

CNN-News18 recently beefed up its senior editorial team with the appointment of Anand Narasimhan as Deputy Executive Editor. Prior to this appointment, he was with Times Now. At CNN-News18, Narasimhan is leading its new show, ‘The Right Stand’, which went on air from October 8, 2018, and airs on weekdays at 10 pm. Breaking away from the clichéd formats, ‘The Right Stand’ seeks to pick up people centric stories, ask questions and take a stand to represent the cause of the silent majority. In every episode, the show will witness well-researched debates on the real issues of real India with a conclusive end on various issues. 

Along with this, Narasimhan is putting his multilingual abilities to good use with ‘Akhada’ in Hindi on News18 India at 12.45 pm. Starting his career as a media planner with GroupM, Narasimhan stumbled into broadcast after he won ‘Dream Job – Harsha Ki Khoj’ in 2005. His decade and a half broadcast career has seen him progress from a sports presenter with ESPN Star Sports to a full time TV media journalist with Times Now and now the News18 Network. 

In conversation with Adgully, Anand Narasimhan speaks about his shows – ‘The Right Stand’ and ‘Akhada’, on use of Hinglish in an English news channel, fake news, #MeToo movement, election coverage and more. Excerpts: 

You have moved from Times Now to CNN-New18. How different are the two organisations?
The difference is the depth of the network. Here, you are looking at 14-16 channels across the length and breadth of the country, so the reporting inputs are far more dynamic, and the spread that the network enjoys adds to the news coverage. We are not only comprehensive with the news, but we are also fast and react faster. Time and again we have been able to break the news before anybody even gets a whiff of it. The biggest one that happened was the P Chidambaram interview. Even with the case of the two CBI top bosses being sent on leave, we had the report at 7.29 am in the morning and we put it out when nobody else had an inkling. We were half an hour ahead of our competition. That speed is critical and the other is the amount of news that we are able to break on the network. 

As Deputy Executive Editor of CNN-News18, what are your key responsibilities?
I want to move towards integrating the network and we have done that with ‘The Right Stand elections special’. Looking at the dynamic programming and working with the core editorial team for setting the agenda for the day are a few of my responsibilities. Right now, I am looking at the 10 pm slot and the afternoon slot as the core of my responsibilities and of course, Hindi – these three shows take up a lot of my time. 

What was the idea behind the conception of a show like ‘The Right Stand’?
The simple aspect was to try and appeal to the intellectual Right or the thinking Right, because one gets the sense that there are a lot of people who take a hard Right or religious Right position, but there is also an intellectual Right. People, who for the sake of a better term, are a liberal Right, who look at the fact that capitalism is not bad, opening up the economy is not bad, to take a few decisions from a socialistic nature but also allow individuals to prosper and look towards an open market scenario with tight control and solid policy in place. Also, we take positions where you champion the cause for the people, question and provide an alternative narrative. There are a lot of narratives that are being pushed at multiple levels, but there has to be a balance while interpreting the facts and showing the other side of the coin. All of that incorporated and we came up with the show, ‘The Right Stand’. 

How does the show intend to break the clutter of noisy debate shows?
The effort is very clear to do something that no one else is doing. We want to give the viewers a choice that when they watch this show at 10 pm, they are watching something different. Even if it is the same subject, it will be approached differently. The idea is to engage in debates and not noise, so the decibel level is controlled. The windows are controlled; you don’t have 10-15 windows, so you don’t have multiple heads talking at the same time. You have 3-4 people who come there and get their voices heard. There will be counters based on facts and on research that our team does. We will give the viewer not just something engaging to sample, but also something informative to take away. 

You have taken an initiative on social media for this show. How much traction have you been getting in the past two weeks?
There is a lot of engagement on the stories that we are doing. The engagement is happening after they have sampled the show and certain stories we did 3-4 days ago are still being talked about on social media. Others who have just sampled the show in the last 3-4 days are going back to see what other stories we have done. Obviously, there is a certain level of engagement that we are able to build in terms of Twitter followers, and number of people who are watching us on Facebook Live as it is streamed live or people who are watching us on Periscope. The numbers are only increasing, the engagement is only increasing. I am waiting for at least 6-8 weeks before I can make an educated assessment of it. 

You also have a Hindi show, ‘Akhada’. How different is it is reporting in Hindi compared to English?
There is a lot of evolution that the Hindi news genre has seen. Today, I think they are breaking stories faster than the English networks. They are picking up nuances and angles. Sometimes I get new ideas after I have done ‘Akhada’ between 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm in the afternoon and as I’m making my way towards the English side, there are five different ideas in my head on how we can interpret a story. There are two or three stories that we have done at CNN-News18 in the show ‘The Right Stand’ that have actually germinated from ‘Akhada’. This cross pollination is something that I’m very excited about and it’s only helping me grow more and learn more. 

What are your thoughts on fake news and how is the channel dealing with it?
We have a huge team and the existing core of reporters that are senior hands, so for us verifying a story, checking it and getting the right angle is very easy. Also, we have a very strong digital team with a set of digital reporters who also have their eyes and ears to the ground and that allows us to vet a story very fast and perhaps even correct a story. The moment we put out a story and realise that there is something wrong, we immediately change not just the line of the story, and if a corrigendum has to be issued, it is done without any problems. One thing that we believe in is to put the news out first. When we put the news, we put out all aspects of the news. When the viewer sits and watches the show, he gets to understand all perspectives. Right, wrong, whether you agree with that is all for later. Every voice is heard and every voice is given a platform so that the viewer gets a comprehensive understanding of who’s saying what. 

What is the strategy that CNN News18 is drawing up to cover the upcoming elections in both English and Hindi?
One is cross pollination, where we will use the reach that we have. The strength of the network is what we would use in terms of election coverage and election news gathering. For instance, if News18 Rajasthan is able to get an interview, it is immediately played out not just on News18 India, but also on CNN-News18. We have that kind of speed and reach for election news coverage. You will also see a lot of new programming formats and other innovations come through. All that which will make election news broadcast not just watchable, but also clean and more importantly, engaging. 

What is the idea behind doing a Hindi show, ‘Bottomline’, on your English channel?
There is a core set of audiences who tends to stick on to Hindi and there is also a set of audiences who want to watch English channels. They aspire to be seen watching English channels, but they also have an affinity towards the language. They understand English, but they speak Hindi, so there is a lot of Hinglish in their heads. If you see the show, it is largely Hinglish and it is a comprehensive new show. If you sit for 15 minutes and sample the show, you not only get to sample some new visuals and some great stories, but it covers the entire gamut and its only news. You sit there for one hour expecting either English or Hindi, but because it is in Hinglish, it is engaging. And it is working as a format, because I also believe that largely we also need to move towards the platform that caters to people that aspire to watch English, understand English, but speak in your language. You have a lot of people who understand English and respond in their native tongue, so a lot of mixed language programming that happens tends to work with the audience. It is like watching an English movie with Hindi subtitles! 

And finally, your thoughts on India’s #MeToo movement that has also seen several senior journalists, among others, being named and shamed?
I have a clear position as far as #MeToo is concerned, because I have always stood up for equality, dignity and respect for women at all levels and continue to do so. I agree with the quotes when they say you cannot use #MeToo as a platform to slander or to get publicity, because that is taking away from the movement. How is slandering someone not harassment? When there is a legitimate complaint, when there is a precedent and when there is a history, then I am absolutely for taking up the story. That is why when everybody was doing it, I did not come out and do this, because there are people who have come out and vented, and people who have come out and said, but I want to take the right stand and look at other issues. It was not logical at this time.


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