Why Arnab Goswami Deserves A Fair Trial

One of the singular achievements of sections of the Indian media toeing the line of the current regime in Delhi is that it has created a dog eat dog atmosphere in a country perpetually at war with itself. The polarization, often communal, racist, sexist and driven by hate, is so sharp and relentless, that its only cutting edge principle is to bay for blood at any cost, having buried all civilized discourse or rational principles of interaction into the garbage can of contemporary history.

Surely, this did not happen even during the draconian days of the Emergency; brave editors would dare to leave their editorial space blank, defying the censors sitting in their edit meetings. These channels created a competitive environment which brazenly and repeatedly flouted all that stands for media ethics and its inherited values.

Day after day they have manufactured mythical enemies of the nation from out of their figment of imagination, pampered the ruling regime’s pet obsessions, declared legitimate and peaceful citizens of this country as anti-nationals, created war propaganda and hate politics to the most absurd levels of heightened hyperbole, and indulged in daily media trials and hounding for the world to see. Much of what was displayed as a grotesque public spectacle on live TV as prime time shows every night in English and Hindi had neither an iota of decency nor space for rational dialogue.

Apart from shouting matches and regular ‘lynching’ of individuals, often these shows set the agenda for a kind of television journalism unseen in the annals of the audio visual media anywhere in the world. Anyone could be bashed, degraded and destroyed, for no rhyme or reason, and without any evidence whatsoever.

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In this vile and vicious melodrama of character assassination and the ravaging of reputations, there is no time to breathe. This is like the blood-letting of the gladiators of ancient times where television anchors became the jury and the judge, where the punishment was publicly announced even without a trial, while the mob wanted more public lynchings.

The daily trial, of course, daily entertainment of the most morbid kind camouflaged as news and opinion – the more filthy and indecent it became, the more it seemed to be lapped up by an indiscrete and invisible audience, till the time the Mumbai police found that even the TRP ratings seem to be fudged and manipulated, much like the prime time fake news dished out without any fact-checking whatsoever, and with only the intention to satiate the lowest and basest instincts of viewers.

The hounding of Rhea Chakravarty, even Deepika Padukone and others, were clear examples of this organized witch-hunting, driven by political interests. Indeed, most of the channels including that run by this particular gentleman who is now cooling his heels in jail, went overboard in becoming more loyal than the king, toeing the central government’s line with such ferocity and with such total disregard for basic journalistic objectivity and ethics, that embedded journalism found a completely new genre on television media in India. Every night became a night of organized targeting.

Even among the top television anchors, again unprecedented in Indian journalism, mutual hounding and calling names and that too on live television, became a new phenomenon. Rajdeep Sardesai for instance called Arnab Goswami’s channel a banana republic. Earlier Sardesai was castigated for his considered interview with Rhea, where she appeared articulate, coherent and dignified, while defending her arguments with great finesse. This was resented by those who had already announced her guilty in a shrill media trial which went on day after day.

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A lot of dirty waters have flowed in this daily gutter on live television in India in recent times. Peaceful PhD scholars, students, academics, intellectuals, writers and artists, and non-violent protesters against the NRC and CAA, demanding the restoration and resurrection of Constitutional values, were declared anti-nationals, terrorists, urban Naxals, among other condemnations which created a public opinion against them; whatever the police and the government said were floated with additional frills, thereby consolidating all forms of undemocratic actions taken by the government. When it came to the process of justice, or a fair trial, this section of the media chose to completely align with the powers that be, thereby dumping all norms of journalistic detachment, impartiality, fair play and objectivity. In sum and substance, this was the abyss of the lowest common denominator.

Given this abysmal situation, independent journalism and objective reportage was dumped into this very gutter which was celebrated every night on prime time. Veteran journalists were hounded. Others were arrested. A young Dalit journalist in Delhi was packed off to a jail in UP for a tweet which he had apparently retweeted, according to reports. The signal was clear: toe the line or be prepared for the worse.

Journalists in Jammu and Kashmir have been chosen for special treatment, even in what is ritualistic media censorship. Indeed, the jackboots and the clampdown has been  celebrated by the loyalist media completely disregarding the basic liberties and rights of 8 million Kashmiri people, thereby consolidating an already existing collective feeling of exile, condemnation and alienation.

Hence, those who are baying for the blood of Arnab Goswami who has been picked up by the Mumbai police on a case of suicide of a son and mother, the son being an interior designer of his new studio when it had launched a new channel, and the alleged non-payment of a huge sum of money, as declared in the suicide note, might fall in the same grotesque trap of vicious vindictiveness and public lynching which was celebrated by these channels. The argument that it is not a case of freedom of expression and is a criminal case might be true, but there are layers within layers, even as the case becomes sub-judice.

The dark irony is that this suicide was reportedly not even investigated earlier, even as the family members apparently knocked at all doors seeking justice for the son and the mother of the family. That seems to be a bigger case of injustice in a country where justice seems elusive to the ordinary citizens, especially those in the margins, as the family of the girl raped and murdered in Hathras witnessed. Dissenters are currently languishing in jail on allegedly fabricated charges under draconian laws. Whereby bail is a legitimate right in the judicial process, even bail is denied to these peaceful dissenters.

In this context, Arnab Goswami too deserves a fair and just trial, and not only because he is brazenly biased and partisan, a favourite of the current ruling regime in Delhi, and surely not because he presided over media trials on his channel, while invading the privacy of citizens and vitiating an already polarized atmosphere of a democracy pushed to an edge.

Indo-Pak Spat Will Sadly Be Milked For Political Gains

In the recent past, particularly the couple of days when tension was at its height between India and Pakistan, if you read only the media publications of those two countries you could have been a victim of schizophrenia, or of extreme bipolar disorder.

The claims and counter-claims about the airborne dogfights, the targets that were allegedly bombed, and the counter-attacks that followed, were so diametrically opposite each other that, if you were an unbiased observer, they would have left you perplexed.

India claimed that its air force had killed hundreds of terrorists believed to be behind mid-February’s suicide bombing in Kashmir in which scores of Indian security personnel died. Pakistan countered by saying its fighter planes had chased away the Indian aircraft and the only damage done was to woods and trees in a deserted area where there were no terrorist camps.

Then when Pakistan shot down an Indian aircraft and captured the pilot and tension began to escalate, the posturing of both sides changed. Pakistan took the high moral ground with its Prime Minister, Mr Imran Khan, offering to have a dialogue with India and releasing the pilot unconditionally. India, on its part, saw this as a huge victory and a cowering down by Pakistan. Meanwhile, a sort of proxy war seemed to be on in both, the social media as well as mainstream media publications, between the two countries. Nationalistic fervour was (and, perhaps, still is) at a peak, and shrill, hawkish screams abounded.

A war between two nuclear-weapon nations is least desirable, and the de-escalation of tensions after the release of the Indian pilot is welcome. Also, it is unlikely that India has, as it claims, decimated a huge terrorist camp in Pakistan. Yet, the problem remains: Kashmir continues, as it has been since Independence in 1947, to be a matter of serious dispute between the two neighbours; and Pakistan clearly is a haven for terror groups, including the dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammed, which repeatedly and regularly attacks and fans violence in the Kashmir Valley where Indian security forces have long maintained a near-military rule. If the recent face-off leads to a saner discussion between the two countries, particularly on the Kashmir issue, it could be a good beginning.

But does India want such a dialogue right now? As Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its allies, head towards national elections, keeping the tension simmering between the two neighbours could actually help them. On 28 February while addressing a gathering of scientists in Delhi, Mr Modi remarked that that a “pilot project”, which was a “practice” just got over, and that the “real project” was yet to happen. It is easy to label Mr Modi’s comments as opportunistic in the context of the coming elections. History across the world shows that incumbent governments often benefit electorally when they demonstrate decisiveness or strength when tensions with an “enemy” state surface.

Yet, it would serve Indians well to remember the genesis of the current face-off: it began when terrorists from across the border launched a suicide attack that killed at least 40 Indian security personnel. That is the crux of the problem. The war against terrorists, who are ostensibly camped in, and perhaps encouraged by, Pakistan has to be a continuous effort that India cannot afford to relent on. But the electoral advantages that Mr Modi and his party might be able to reap from the current skirmish are real. We can expect his election campaign to keep referring to these: the threat of terrorism from Pakistani territory; the pilot (Wing Commander Abhinandan) who is now a hero in India; and a resolve to launch the not-so-cryptic “real project” that Mr Modi mentioned.

There is another disturbing aspect in the current scenario. India’s as well as Pakistan’s media, particularly the mainstream newspapers and TV news channels, have commonly fallen prey to jingoism whenever a conflict with Pakistan arises. You may want to call it healthy nationalism, perhaps. But in today’s scenario where social media plays a huge role in shaping people’s perceptions in both, India and Pakistan, this could have serious consequences. Fake news, doctored videos, and inflammatory comments, are being traded in a free-for-all manner. Many believe that these could heighten the tensions between the two nuclear weapon nations despite the de-escalation that followed the Indian pilot’s release.

The cynical viewpoint is that the ruling regime’s spin doctors could be leveraging all of this to help them in the coming elections. Signs of that, viz. Mr Modi’s and his colleagues’ recent statements, are already visible. Mr Modi came to power with an overwhelming electoral victory in 2014 but on the back of promises that now seem tall. He promised development, progress, and better days for Indians who placed their faith in him, but five years later, at the end of his term, much of those promises remain unfulfilled and the initial euphoria after he came to power turned out to be ephemeral. And, despite their bluster, the BJP and its allies have little to tom-tom about their achievements. In that context, the skirmish with Pakistan could be like a shot in the arm, providing campaigning fodder that could touch the hearts of many Indians.

On the other side too, Prime Minister Khan has been quick to grasp an opportunity to position himself as a mature statesman. His publicly stated willingness for a dialogue with India and the prompt release of the Indian pilot is likely to boost his popularity among his fellow countrymen. Last summer, his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) came to power when it won the largest number of seats in the national assembly but it didn’t manage to get a majority on its own. There were also widespread allegations about rigging by the PTI. Besides, in Pakistan, a hawkish military exerts overwhelming pressure and influence over political regimes and is commonly believed to encourage separatists and terror groups that operate in Kashmir. Yet, Mr Khan too has to resolve to fight the terrorism that breeds in his nation’s territory. A statesman-like image, which he has tried to create for himself recently, wouldn’t hurt.

Hyper-ventilating TV news anchors, and internet and social media trolls in both nations notwithstanding, the crucial need of the hour is not to fan tensions between Pakistan and India but to try and fix ways in which the long-standing dispute over Kashmir and the violent terrorism it has bred can be resolved. For that to happen the leaders of the two nations have to set aside their immediate political interests and agree to move towards non-violent and non-aggressive solutions. Will that happen? Or is it merely wishful thinking?