Republic and its discontents

Vigilante justice in retaliation to Arnab Goswami’s vigilante journalism cannot be condoned

Updated - November 12, 2020 10:25 am IST

Published - November 12, 2020 12:15 am IST

 Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami sits inside a police vehicle after being produced in court following his arrest in an abetment to suicide case, in Mumbai on November 4.>A>

Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami sits inside a police vehicle after being produced in court following his arrest in an abetment to suicide case, in Mumbai on November 4.>A>

First, it must be said loud and clear, so the ‘nation may know’, that even though Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic Media Network, may have been disrespectful, rude, obnoxious and mean on his channel to people who may well be innocent, even though he may be a kind of lyncher in the media in cahoots with his camera storm troopers with utter disregard for the privacy and dignity of the people whom he tramples on with sadistic pleasure, police vigilante justice in retaliation to his vigilante journalism cannot be condoned.

Let me qualify this statement. We cannot prejudge the arrest of Mr. Goswami by the Maharashtra Police . The police may have a legitimate case. The wife and daughter of the contractor, who left an incriminating suicide note accusing Mr. Goswami, among others, for not honouring payment for his contract work, may feel that his arrest was justified. I am merely stating an inviolable principle: media excess cannot be met with police excess. A murder, even a heinous one, cannot be avenged by a state-sponsored killing. A media house, howsoever irresponsible and provocative, headed by anchors who seem to be on steroids, even when it goes rogue, has to be reined in by adhering to the rule of law. A republic will not hold when those who are supposed to uphold the law themselves opt for retributive justice against private entities, even if such entities, like ‘Republic TV’, run amok.

Editorial | Arresting Arnab

The irony

There are many who may adore the ‘Republic TV’ anchor who panders to an audience with a narrow, bigoted and jingoistic outlook on men and matters. There are others who subscribe to a broader, pluralistic and an inclusive idea of a genial, assimilating India — an India which is amorphous, indeterminate, yet has a unique civilisational identity; that is diverse, yet unifying. The so-called liberals, in the widest sense of the word, may abhor him for his polarising style. He was arrested in a cruel twist of irony by a ruling party which has a history of muscular and fiery politics, which espoused religious identity politics, which was seen to be intolerant of other faiths and cultures and wary of outsiders, which discriminated against those who did not belong, and which never shied away from using strong-arm tactics to browbeat opponents. This is the very brand of politics that ‘Republic TV’ practises: combining hysteria with histrionics while spewing venom and vitriol and dividing the republic.

The channel, until Wednesday, was crying itself hoarse that its anchor’s arrest was a threat to free speech and strikes at the very foundations of democracy by muzzling the freedom of the press. This is also ironic considering that the channel is notorious for shouting down those who hold an opinion at variance to the anchor. The channel that never raised its voice in defence of many of their journalist colleagues when they were arrested, assaulted, some jailed on improbable charges of sedition, and a few even killed began taking refuge in amnesia. It showed no remorse and is even now crying foul and accusing the Shiv Sena, the ruling party in Maharashtra, of terrorising the press and arresting a ‘nationalist’. Despite all that, none of us can succumb to the temptation of saying, ‘It served the bounder right. He was served his own medicine.’

Mr. Goswami is not the only anchor who practises aggressive, noisy and a blatantly partisan brand of journalism; there are many. But he is the archetype of a television gladiator. Such anchors are vulgar and gross as they bully people while interviewing them. Mr. Goswami, though, stands out among them, whipping himself into a frenzy. He sees and prides himself as a media Rambo, who is in the forefront of the media to ‘save the nation’. The more his victims squirm under the glare of the television cameras, the more he rants and raves and revels in it. He exults in intimidating some, while surrounded by cheerleaders on his hand-picked panel who join the raucous chorus he orchestrates.

Also read | Supreme Court grants interim bail to Arnab Goswami

Many like Arnab

Mr. Goswami chooses carefully the ‘enemies of the nation’, both imagined and real, and then pursues them with single-minded obsession like a vulture. He goes after them relentlessly. He sees himself as the self-anointed custodian of nationalist interest, the pompous and sanctimonious crusader who has arrogated to himself the role of investigator, judge and executioner, sanctioning himself the right to heap abuses. If these were actions of an unhinged media house rousing emotions, purveying gossip, witch-hunting Bollywood stars, and business tycoons caught in the crosshairs of the banks for defaulting loans, or singling out Opposition leaders caught in scandals, then one can ignore ‘Republic TV’. But there are scores of other channels who are trying to outdo ‘Republic TV’ in stirring the communal pot, taking blatantly partisan stands by shutting one eye and brazenly taking political sides. There are also a few channels perceived to be favouring the Opposition parties and leftist intellectuals and are seen to be ‘anti-government’. When parties on either side of the political and social divide split and range themselves behind various TV channels and align with one media house instead of the other, there is danger to the stability of the republic.

The freedom of the press is sacred. The media’s conduct and functioning in a free, fair and fearless manner underpins a vibrant democracy. Media houses cannot be loyal to the ruling party or to the party in the Opposition or to one community or ideology while wilfully ignoring facts. Their fidelity has to be to an overarching fealty to truth and to the larger common weal.

Also read | Arnab Goswami walks out of Taloja jail

Mr. Goswami of ‘Republic TV’ can go on a witch-hunt and sow discord. He may ill-treat his guests on his show and behave ignominiously. But the institutions of the republic cannot emulate him. Mr. Goswami was granted bail by the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Bail should have been granted by a lower court. He must be given a fair trial and treated with dignity as anyone who is an accused must be treated. Such a gesture may have a salutary effect on not only Mr. Goswami, but on other sections of the media. It is hoped that this will turn many into decent, humane anchors who treat others with respect; anchors who moderate impartially and, in the future, give voice to fellow journalists who are languishing in jail or are under prosecution in many States. Such a ‘Republic’ will be an asset and a strong fourth pillar of democracy.

Captain G.R. Gopinath is a writer and founder of Air Deccan

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