The Newshour anchor does a disservice to free speech by asking for a clampdown on India’s Daughter on NDTV.
Posted by Abhinandan Sekhri | Mar 4, 2015
That Arnab Goswami from Times Now organises a delicious high-octane circus every night in his studio is remarkable. That he has kicked the lazy, entitled, cozy Lutyens’ club of English journalism from their slumber by stealing their thunder and viewers is creditable. That he is equally offensive and rude to guests and spokespersons across party lines is noteworthy. But what he did last night on The Newshour by advocating and supporting the gagging of NDTV 24X7 for the scheduled airing of a documentary film was disgraceful, vile and possibly even unpardonable.
Before saying the unkindest things about someone I have liked, and still do at some weird level, I will explain why I have liked Arnab. I have briefly had the chance to interact with him when NDTV was starting the political satire show Gustakhi Maaf and The Great Indian Tamasha, and I had been asked to come on board as chief script-writer.
The couple of times I have interacted with him since he set up Times Now, including catching him off guard at a café has been pleasant and he has always come across as a rational, reasonable and good-humoured guy.
He has broken many unsaid rules of cozy journalism. During the 2G scam, he was the one to break the Omerta of going after only discredited politicians and not corporate houses. He took names and went after corporate India, which no one had the guts to do back then and he even mocked competing channels for not doing the same.
Arnab has been attacked unfairly by other channels like NDTV — their anchors and reporters — for his histrionics and over-the-top style. I understand when a viewer who likes understated elegance and pretty pictures does so, but coming from someone like NDTV, it reeks of the bitterness of a deposed aristocracy. When your bravest sting has been a hidden camera shoot capturing auto-drivers overcharging passengers, you can’t really speak about public interest journalism being in danger because of Arnab’s demented style. Especially when enough people in your stable have the access and with half a brain would have the knowledge of the high-end, A-grade corruption happening in the corridors of power.
Attacking Arnab on his style by entrenched journalists was a pathetic attempt to hide their own inadequacies.
NDTV isn’t known for combat or courage. It’s safe, staid and yes there is a place for that on TV. Arnab caught them all by their collar and shook them up, and the croquet playing club didn’t like that the game being played now was rugby.
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I have found that the easiest way to attack someone trying to do something differently is to attack their aesthetics, which is what was done to Arnab – perhaps the reason why he has such a special hatred towards the English news professionals of Delhi.
Historically, including during the Jan Lokpal movement, the entitled and entrenched focus on the drama and style of change – and not the content. During India Against Corruption, there were more attacks by status quoists on the loudness of voice, drama of fasting and over-emotional speeches than on the merits or demerits of an anti-corruption governance architecture. It’s the oldest trick in the book and Arnab has been the victim of that too.
But there are some things that can wipe out a lifetime of credibility and good work. Vir Sanghvi and the Radia Tapes was a case in point. No matter how good his work has been in the past, that one act and conversation was enough to wipe the slate clean. Sanghvi will have to build his credibility from scratch, if he is ever able to do so. Arnab’s show last night was in that league.
Going on air to say the police and authorities should take action against NDTV, a competing channel, for a film the subject of which you have a problem with, is in that zone. No matter how well-meaning and crazed, courageous and hysterical his earlier role as a combatant for the aam aadmi causes was, his attacking free speech on air and asking the government to go after a competing network is as low as a journalist can sink.
You can’t stand for free speech as all journalists must, you can’t stand for a free and fearless media as all journalists must, you can’t stand up in opposition to Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as all journalists must – when you have run a campaign pretty much asking for an official clampdown on another media organisation, on air.
When you want the police and government to crackdown on a competing channel for wanting to show a film that outraged your sense of propriety or aesthetics (irony alert) which you have not even watched (but that’s a separate argument), you have just forfeited your right to be called a journalist who stands for public interest.
In a nation that has no constitutional backing like the First Amendment does in the United States of America, it is the voices of journalists that are the first and last line of defence for that starting point of public interest – freedom of expression.
Free speech is the germination point of all other ideas that constantly change and evolve an always imperfect world. You attack that, and you have cut the tree you sit on.
So Arnab bro, you do what you do night after night, and often I love your circus, but you just shot yourself in the foot big time. Just so you remember, if and when the authorities come after you and some show on your channel (which is inevitable) no matter how stupid your rants, I will stand up for you. And I hope others do too, not because you’re worth it, but because the cause of free speech is.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @abhinandansekhr