The strangest thing about the targeting of Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV for various sins of omission or commission is not that the state is in vendetta mode, but that there is so little outrage in the media about this blatant attempt to muzzle the channel. The dogs that guard democracy did not even yelp, leave alone bark.
The Editors Guild of India (of which I am part), put out a statement criticising the police for targeting Republic TV’s journalists through multiple FIRs, but if you were to read the 348-word statement issued by the Guild’s office-bearers, you wound wonder if it was defending free speech rights or throwing its own punches at Republic TV.
It is no business of the Guild to adjudicate on content without first formulating a transparent code on what constitutes good or bad journalism. Instead, it chose to raise questions about the editorial qualities of Republic TV. After claiming grandly that it does not “wish to influence the probe by the authorities” it did precisely that.
It indirectly welcomed the probe by saying it could “bring in much needed transparency on the manipulation of popularity, and creation of ‘proceeds of crime’ as claimed by the police.”
In other words, it lends greater credence to police claims and not the media which is being targeted. The statement then goes on to make gratuitous remarks about how media should “reside within the rule of law”, and that the right to free speech does not mean a licence to promote hate speech.
A lot of the statement is about targeting Republic TV for its coverage of events and giving free publicity to Mumbai Police’s allegations against the channel. “Besides the unsavory details pertaining to the manipulation of TRPs, Republic TV’s high-strung conduct during the unfortunate demise of film actor Sushant Singh Rajput also raises issues about media credibility and the limits to reporting.
The Mumbai High Court has pertinently asked the channel’s lawyer about (the) harangue directed at actress Rhea Chakraborty. The High Court asked a question that must be addressed by all: “Is this part of investigative journalism? Asking the public about their opinion on who should be arrested?"
Also, the bench wondered whether the channel in the name of investigative journalism was encroaching into the domain of police. Similar reservations about its conduct have been expressed even by News Broadcaster’s Association (NBA) that disagrees with its reporting.
“These are important issues that should have been resolved long ago, but were allowed to fester. It is high time the channel behaves responsibly and not compromises (sic) the safety of its journalists as well as hurt the collective credibility of media.” (Italics mine)
This is astounding. Far from seeking to protect free speech, the EGI has given us a lecture on what is wrong with Republic TV, and worse, it is blaming the victim. It’s like condemning harassment and then asking the victim why she wore some “provocative” clothes.
It was left to a former head of the Editors Guild of India, Shekhar Gupta, to point out on Twitter that “The answer to bad journalism isn’t police highhandedness. Maharashtra is wrong to target Arnab Goswami and Republic TV this way. And using a bad colonial law.”
That still leaves the question of what is good or bad journalism undefined, but at least what needed to be said was said loud and clear. Clearly, the problem is not that the media’s watchdogs did not bark, but the ones that did choose to bark, barked at the victim, not the aggressor.
One must ask why.
The answers lie in Arnab Goswami’s success. He has cocked a snook at the media establishment and won, both on the audience front and in terms of viability. It is unlikely that he won purely through TRP manipulations, even assuming some of it is proven.
Advertisers are not that stupid to pay good money to a channel that has much lower real ratings, when advertisers and advertising agencies hold 40 per cent in BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council), the organisation which generates the TRP data.
No one will, of course, say so, but there is huge envy in the rest of the mainstream media. Here are some other reasons one can speculate about.
One, against the odds, a journalist managed to create not only a new media platform but also make it viable in double-quick time. This goes against conventional wisdom where we presume that owners know more about the media business than journalists.
Goswami broke that mould and shattered the glass ceiling. This has been done earlier by Prannoy Roy (NTDV) and Rajat Sharma (India TV) and also Raghav Bahl (Network 18), but barring Sharma, the rest went into a financial tailspin.
Two, Goswami also gets a cult following because he dares to take up causes that the mainstream thinks are beyond the pale or not “secular” enough. The Lutyens consensus is to avoid taking up any issue that may remotely be pro-Hindu, but will tom-tom anything that is remotely favourable to the victimhood narratives of minorities.
Goswami does not play minorityism the way the Lutyens media does. It is by addressing the information gaps caused by the cancel culture of secularism that Republic TV got its traction. It is thus incumbent on the also-rans to now denounce it as communal or responsible for hate speech.
Three, in all the media coverage about the “TRP scam”, police allegations against Republic TV found it to the headlines; media reports to the effect that BARC actually fined another channel (India Today) for TRP irregularities were sidelined or ignored.
It was left to Opindia.com to report this, and India Today was more angry about the leak than the BARC fine and what it said about its own role in the TRP case. It is no surprise that BARC has suspended its ratings for three months; it is likely to help Republic TV’s rivals more than BARC’s own credibility.
Four, the real threat to the incumbents came when Republic TV, after making it to No 1 in English, moved to Hindi with Republic Bharat. While English offers a niche and high-value audience, Hindi and regional languages are where the bulk of the new consuming classes are. As Republic Bharat rose in TRPs, the old establishment felt threatened as never before.
It does not require a genius to figure out who gains and who loses if Republic TV goes down the tubes and its boss finds himself defending his organisation against charges of benefiting from “proceeds of crime”.
This explains why the dogs did not bark, and why the ones that did, did so only to blame the real victim of state harassment. If we expect these watchdogs to protect media freedom, god help us.
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