Amulya Noronha (21), a student, is in prison in Karnataka for the past seven months for allegedly shouting, “Pakistan Zindabad-Hindustan Zindabad” at a public function. But Arnab Goswami, the TV news anchor who shouts and screams longer and louder on TV than the incarcerated girl student, is unlikely to find himself in prison any time soon despite making far more incendiary statements.
We truly live in strange times. On April 14 when thousands of migrant workers defied the lockdown at Bandra in Mumbai and demanded they be allowed to go home, Goswami raved, “ They are not hungry, they are not workers, they are paid actors and part of a huge conspiracy...they assembled near a mosque, I repeat, a mosque...they want- ed the lockdown to fail...it is a conspiracy against the lockdown.” Mumbai police arrested a trade union leader Vinay Dubey and Rahul Kulkarni, a journal- ist working for ABP Majha TV channel for misleading the workers. Dubey had put up a facebook post on April 13, asking workers to assemble the next day and asking the government urgently to arrange for trains to send the stranded workers home. Kulkarni had stumbled upon an internal communication of the Railways discussing the possibility of resuming passenger train services from April 16.
His report, police held, could have misled the workers. While Kulkarni was let off on bail within two days, Dubey had to cool his heels for two weeks in jail. The message the Maharashtra Government sent out was it would not spare anyone for spreading fake news. The 12-hour interrogation of Goswami, when he is far more likely to have discussed with policemen the working of his channel and regaled them with anecdotes, was also designed to send out a message. And it seems to have worked. Republic TV is more subdued now in covering Maharashtra-related stories.
A week after the Bandra incident, a mob lynched two saffron cladisguise. Goswami was at it again and raved, “Hindu saints are getting killed...are the Hindus so weak...why are they still quiet.” He went on to castigate liberals and the ‘Mombatti gang’ for their silence and named Javed Akhtar, Swara Bhaskar and Anurag Kashyap among others, who he alleged, had been silent on the killing. Why are they silent, he screamed though all of them as a matter of fact had condemned it. Goswami’s research team is either poor or is under instruction to ignore inconvenient facts. Not content, Goswami raved on. Shaking his head and wagging his fingers, he wondered why the Working President of the Congress, Sonia Gandhi, was silent.
“I am telling you, she would have sent a report back to Italy by now... she would have reported that she got the saints killed in a state where her party is in power...”. Some of the flummoxed viewers wondered if this fell in the category of ‘opinion’, ‘news’ or ‘investigation’ and whether freedom of expression permitted him to make such statements; and if the Government and the Supreme Court would allow similar license to other anchors.
The raving was so extraordinary even by Goswami’s own loud and irresponsible standards that Congress workers and leaders, among them Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, demanded that the anchor be arrested and sent to jail. Maharashtra’s energy minister Nitin Raut, a Congress leader, filed a FIR against Goswami in Nagpur. The Supreme Court has now transferred the case for investigation to NM Joshi police station at Worli.
Goswami’s fan club was ecstatic though. The witch hunt, they exulted, would add to his popularity and send the TRP of his channel soaring. Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis led a delegation to the Maharashtra Governor to protest against Goswami’s interrogation by the police. The Supreme Court granted Goswami an urgent hearing and protected him from arrest for three weeks. Former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi appeared for him and claimed that his client was raising questions in ‘public interest’, leaving observers to wonder how Rohatgi would define public interest in the case of the 21-year old student in prison.
BJP’s soft corner for press freedom evoked sniggers and left viewers to wonder if Goswami in his new avatar in Republic TV had ever raised his voice against suppression of media’s freedom in Kashmir and elsewhere. But Goswami is too powerful, too rich and too well connected to worry about curtailment of his freedom any time soon. And although Mumbai Police has booked him under several sections of the IPC for creating mischief, enmity between communities and instigating viewers with false information, he appeared unfazed and flashed the victory sign after he emerged from the interrogation. Unconfirmed reports circulating in Mumbai maintained that Goswami had offered to write a written apology to the police. Wouldn’t the nation like to know?
There are other things about him and the Republic TV that the nation would like to know. The mysterious circumstances in which he parted with Times Now has never been explained. He had spent 10 years with the channel and had built himself into a brand. Speculation at the time held that he had acquired a larger-than-life image and fell out with Vineet Jain. But as a media insider quipped, “Nobody falls out with Vineet Jain and yet survives in the media”.
In hindsight, he possibly knew what he was doing because Goswami hit the ground running and went on air with Republic TV in record time in 2017. Launching a TV channel requires permission from a host of ministries and while others were kept waiting, Republic TV’s files moved with lightening speed. His venture evidently had the blessings of the BJP Government. This was quite evident earlier this year when he was heckled in a Mumbai-Lucknow flight by comedian Kunal Kamra for his brand of journalism.
Civil Aviation minister Hardeep Puri ordered that Kamra be banned from flying for six months in not just Indigo flights but in all other airlines, public or private. The minis- ter had exceeded his brief and had acted with- out any passenger having complained of incon- venience. The Pilot in fact wrote that Kamra had cooperated with the cabin crew and had apologised to them for any inconvenience. The travel ban on Kamra spoke of Goswami’s growing clout in the government.
“He is a BJP ‘asset’, the party’s hatchet man or a Doberman if you like,” said a media veteran from Mumbai. It should not have come as a surprise because Goswami’s links with the BJP have been long and deep. While he rants against dynasts, he himself hails from a political family with his grandfather, father and an uncle having served the BJP, two of them as legislators. What has come as a surprise, however, is a sudden upturn in his fortune during the last three years. The nation would certainly like to know the secret of his meteoric rise.
An Internet search of Goswami’s net worth throws up varying figures ranging from Rs 380 Crore to Rs 1000 Crore. These curious sites with such curious details must have been posted with a purpose and may not be authentic. But what can be said with certainty is that Goswami bought 80% of his company’s shares from Chandrashekhar. How did he amass such wealth in such a short time is one of the unanswered questions swirling in Mumbai.
A tweet circulating this week summed up the mystery. “Story of Arnab is fascinating. He started off as a serious broadcast journalist with NDTV, brought insanity to 9 pm on Times Now, launched Republic with a promise to fight ‘Lutyen’s media’ but in three years he built a personal net worth of Rs 1000 Crores—richer and more connected than any member of the Lutyen’s media!” In a cover story in 2015 on Arnab Goswami in Outlook magazine, Anuradha Raman recalled a dialogue from the Oscar-winning film Network, in which Peter Finch said, “TV is not the truth. It is a goddamn amusement park. It is a circus, a carnival. A travelling group of acrobats, storytellers, lion-tamers, sideshow freaks. We are in the boredom-kill- ing business.”
But while Arnab Goswami did kill boredom for some, he wrecked news for most and has done immense damage to the medium and to the fabric of this nation. An intelligent and determined prosecution can utilise the three weeks of reprieve that Goswami secured from the apex court to dig into past programmes. It is not necessary to send him to jail and make him a faux martyr for liberty and free- dom. It should be enough to make a white paper on his absurd and bizarre performance in stu- dio public.