Debate: Why Arnab Goswami’s Banana ‘Republic’ Also Needs to Have a Seat at the Table

Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV is not only a problem but also a symptom of a much bigger, scarier disease plaguing the media industry.

Journalism in India is facing a crisis and we can’t afford to let our viewers/readers down at a time when they need us to be impartial, objective and efficient more than ever.

They are brash. They heckle their subjects. They wear jingoism as a badge of honour and their commander-in-chief often advocates curbing free speech. According to critics, they are ‘lapdogs of the ruling party’. Yet, what happened at newly-elected MLA Jignesh Mevani’s interaction with reporters in Chennai this week was unacceptable.

On Tuesday, the Vadgam, Gujarat legislator was participating in an interaction with academics, activists and students in Tamil Nadu’s capital. Following the session, media persons were invited to record Mevani’s sound bite, but he refused to do so until journalists from Arnab Goswami‘s Republic TV left the premises.

While the journalists (mostly from English TV news channels) who attended the event stood up to Mevani, in solidarity with their colleague, and refused to record a bite, other journalists from across the country felt that the ‘North Korean news channel’ had it coming.

Republic’s reportage of Mevani has been unfair to say the least. The channel that claims to be ‘India’s only independent news venture’ is funded by NDA deputy convener in Kerala and MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar and is often described as a toxic version of the staid state-run Doordarshan News with which it shares a high degree of proximity to the ruling regime. Goswami, who fancies himself as a dissenter, has proven to be exactly what he claims to detest – ‘a Lutyens hack’, whose USP is his friendliness to the politicians who wield power in New Delhi. Most of his coverage, even of topics that require taking the ruling government to task, is focussed on finding faults with the opposition.

This wasn’t the first time the channel’s reporters have been asked to leave a media interaction. A day after journalist Gauri Lankesh was brutally murdered in Bengaluru, JNU student leader Shehla Rashid not only refused to engage with a Republic reporter outside the Press Club in Delhi but also demanded that he leave. In December 2017, reporters belonging to Times Now and Republic TV were refused entry to a Congress party press conference in New Delhi. On multiple occasions, the over-enthusiastic (bordering on rowdy) journalists from the channel have ended up being physically restrained by security staff of opposition leaders because of their confrontational, in-your-face journalism.

Also Read: Jignesh Mevani, Republic TV and the Incomplete Story of Chennai’s Media Solidarity

So why should we stand by them when a politician – in most scenarios rightly so – wants to kick them out of a press conference? Simply because it could be us in their place tomorrow. Today it’s Mevani and Rashid, tomorrow it could be the BJP and RSS or Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar who feel unfairly targeted and exclude journalists from media groups they dislike.

After India Today published pictures of the dead and bleeding victims of the Nellie massacre, the-then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi refused to answer a question from a reporter from the magazine, saying she didn’t answer questions from journalists of anti-national publications, recalled veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta.

When the Left was in power in West Bengal, journalists recall being denied access to senior leaders who accused them of misrepresenting their policies. The Left Front government in the early 1990s had demolished the original press corner, a room for journalists covering the state secretariat, after accusing the media of instigating Mamata Banerjee’s dharna in front of Jyoti Basu’s chamber. The fact that a politician would seek to sidestep an uncomfortable question isn’t unusual. Mamata, who became the media’s darling after she refurbished the corner once she came to power, later banned the entry of journalists in the VIP zone in the same building.

Who decides which media house stays and which goes? The arbitrariness that accompanies these decisions comes with troubling consequences. Those who support such acts of censorship are guided by their personal like and dislikes. For instance, many claim that just because Republic is a registered TV news channel doesn’t mean that it has to be treated as one. This argument, at its most fundamental, raises moral and philosophical questions. While this debate is useful from an ethics standpoint, it fails utterly when used by politicians and celebrities to force out journalists from a public space.

It is a politician’s prerogative to ignore or engage with the media. She/he can choose to not give them a bite or an interview. Not let them in at private ‘invitation-only’ events. But at a public event, even if it is not a press conference, refusing to allow them to keep their mic is unacceptable. Democracy can only function successfully if elected officials are held accountable and it is the media that has to play that role.

Also, for leaders like Mevani and Rashid, who don’t fit the traditional political mould, their actions have also proved to be counter-productive as the narrative they seek to project is disrupted and ignored, resulting merely in providing more fodder for the propaganda-hungry channel.

While Republic TV, its editor-in-chief and its journalists have plumbed new depths, the propaganda that is central to the channel’s behaviour is symptomatic of a much bigger, scarier disease plaguing the media industry worldwide.

Credit: Reuters

Now is as good a time as any to discuss the role the media is supposed to play and the obstacles that are standing in its way. And to do that we need to focus on the root of this problem — funding. Traditionally, advertising-driven media houses in India are subject to the whims and fancies of politicians and corporates. In both scenarios, journalists are often expected to pull punches to keep their masters happy. As long as media is funded by corporates and politicians, it can never be truly independent from outside pressures — financially or editorially.

If we want to keep the powerful accountable and provide good quality journalism, we need to look at different business models that aren’t solely focussed on TRPs, page views, advertisements from the government or businesses. Which means readers need to start paying for news like they pay for all other services they enjoy.

The Indian media can also take some lessons from the dramatic rise in subscriptions of the New York Times since Donald Trump was elected president.

Despite being constantly under attack from the the president and his supporters, the paper has seen a rise in subscribers and advertisers because it continued the practice of taking elected officials to task.

As far as the media fraternity in India is concerned, however, it is time for an internal audit. Media watchdogs, too, need to play a much bigger role in laying down some basic dos and don’ts regarding how media persons behave and we all need to come together to make sure they are implemented.

Journalism in India is facing a crisis and we can’t afford to let our viewers/readers down at a time when they need us to be impartial, objective and efficient more than ever.

Lastly, Mevani, who was chosen by the people to represent them, has a long career ahead of him and one or two channels can’t do anything to harm that. So, like a veteran journalist suggested, he should grow thicker skin because the game has just started. 

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  • ashok759

    At least when a man shaves in the morning, he needs to look at a mirror. He should feel comfortable at what he sees in it.

  • vishwas

    Though generally I agree in your story, these so called leaders like Sheila, Jignesh, Kanhaiya, Umar have been in the news for the wrong reasons.

  • Rayhan Ali

    media? ha ha ha. wait for Indian Trump to trash all these corporate kontrolled junkies. and sheeple should get a life

  • Ashwin

    Every Citizen who is a public figure has right to represent himself/herself in an accurate manner to the Public. If the media purposely twists what is communicated in an unethical manner. Then he/She has every right to ignore said media.
    The above article would make sense only if the media policed themselves and held each other to high standards of Journalism. However this is not the case. TV news channels are often no longer “News” channels. They are instruments for propaganda.In such cases, leaders will be forced to pick and choose in order to protect their right to be reported accurately.

  • Anand Raj

    Banana Republic TV and Times Cow are Bhakt channels and completely in Modi’s pockets. The Chinese buildup at Dokhlam, is a counter reaction to the endless sabre-rattling, uber-nationalism and jingoism peddled by Modi and his media minions.

  • Chidambaram Tumuluru

    “Most of his coverage, even of topics that require taking the ruling government to task, is focussed on finding faults with the opposition.”
    While agree that most of the channels have a tilt towards BJP or opposition; Republic TV more than others, HAVE YOU NEVER FELT SAME WITH NDTV DEBATES WHERE THE DEBATE’S TITLE ITSELF IS ‘LEADING’ TO ANTI GOVT OR BJP and the anchors themselves give an impression of pre- conceived agenda.

  • ShaileshLohani

    Media has always been a political tool. The congress has used it for 70 years. It’s just that the coin has flipped towards the BJP.

  • Chandran

    Actually I am weary of Times Now. They keep shifting. The print media Times of India is supporting anti national forces. Times Now though pretends to be nationalistic. I have problem only with Arnab’s style.

  • Srinivasulu Mekala

    Don’t you think it is foolish to expect that we can not find the truth ourselves and need your guidance? We know what Banana is and what Republic is. It is we who are the judges, you are at best the accused pleading your own case.

  • subhasis ghosh

    Well written. Wonder why no journalist calls out NDTV for being pro Congres and rabidly anti Modi?

  • Seshagiri

    Well said sir!

    • Yogesh Sharma

      Thanks Sir.

  • subhasis ghosh

    And why just NDTV? Many senior journalists are completely biased towards Congress and the Left and pretend to be independent.

  • subhasis ghosh

    Truth telling? Indian journalists? According to LK Advani, during the Emergency, the press, when asked to bend, was willing to crawl. Only The Statesman and The Indian Express conducted themselves professionally during those dark days.

  • subhasis ghosh

    And what about NDTV? Is that channel truly independent and objective? Have you not read stories of its dodgy funding?

    • adnan ali Khan

      I would say that NDTV is more balanced. The role of the media is of perpetual opposition. They have to hold the government of the day accountable. When UPA was in power, NDTV held them accountable and now they are doing the same with NDA. On that parameter they are doing a fairly good job. And as far as their funding is concerned, that matter is under investigation. Just being investigated does not make you guilty.

  • Rakesh Reja

    What Republic shows doesnt called news. Its calles modi aarti, modi strotra, modi chalisa, modi bhajans etc. And all bhakts like it. Its similar like aasaram bhakts, ram rahim bhakts no difference.

  • s Ganapathi bhat

    What about NDTV and CNN? A simple statement ” Even if a puppy comes across the car I feel sad” was distorted to malign Modi. We’re not most of English channels were and are anti BJP?

    • Ashish Vats

      English channel wont give space to Right wing

  • Shantanu Panda

    Arnab is a popular journalist. Everyone likes his shows. U can not go reverse of what majority Indian wants.

  • Raghuraman C N

    Goswami talks brash and you attack some personalities with bias.
    All of us have bias and let us learn to live with it.

  • Surya Narayanan

    At least republic tv debate have opposition voices.
    But NDTV not even allowed dr. Sambit patra to participate

  • Shibu Shanmughom

    Of course, Arnab is not an
    exception, simulacra or an individuated thing in itself, but an immeasurable
    expanse that deceptively hides under the linear surface of communicative
    spaces. What it strategically wrecks is the space of reciprocal speech and
    response which as Baudrillard puts it, eventually ends in ‘fabricating
    noncommunication through the unilaterality of communication’. What exactly lies
    behind the mask of ‘the nation wants to know’ is not a representation of the
    collective plurality of differences, but a brutal imposition of hyper
    conformist ideology which is in operation in tandem with the technologies of
    governmentality to make things fall in line Here mass is considered as a
    populist hypersensitive hysterical unitary whole which is often tend to discard
    the ‘other’ truths at the cost of an oppressive big collective truth. ‘The
    wanted to know’ rhetoric means selective amnesia and manufacturing lies drummed
    up for people’s consumption, the ‘needs to know’ instead means something
    liberating and dialogical.

    Instead of overtly and simply engaged
    with the appearances or symptoms, we should rather go deep into the
    complexities which made the ‘maximal echo chambers’ like the polymorphic Arnabs
    were possible. It is not simply all about the self-aspiring possibility of the
    person behind himself mutating to a more reasonable reinvent. These polymorphic
    forms enshrined in the present architecture of the media are the byproducts of
    a hybridity act which reciprocating each other through the system of social
    control and power. These kind of bizarre macro-models of media ‘dark knights’
    are coming swirling up through the ‘black holes’ in the sphere of the media
    itself; the kitsch of corporate collusion, paid news, ratings, audience demographics,
    public opinion polls, profitability and business would act as an ideal
    springboard to launch the hyper real celestial acts or wage a war against the
    reason. The strangest cocktail of Indian context has also been given them rogue
    weapons to make them hegemonic as they heavily indebted their gestures and
    rhetoric from their political counterparts who representing their own party
    polemics. And in Foucauldian terms they ‘establishes the other as an enemy, an
    upholder of opposed interests against which one must fight until the moment
    this enemy is defeated and either surrenders or disappears.’ Of course this is
    nothing more than enacting the theatre of cruelty in public sphere not without
    consequences; they are in the act of symbolic excommunication, actually
    murdering the ‘real’ for the consumption of public spectacle.

    Nevertheless, we can hope against
    these kinds of broody tidings only by reclaiming what is left to us human,
    natural and ethical in reciprocal elucidation, instead of other than
    celebrating the carnival of killer instinct.
    Above all, a blend of a new public sphere mixed up with a discursive
    rationality and deliberative democracy might be the only ideal panacea for
    curing the illness, which is chronic in stage.

  • The Wire

    He is deputy convener of the NDA in Kerala.

  • adnan ali Khan

    I say this because the most important function of media in a democracy is to hold the ones in power to account. They have to ask questions to power, scrutinize every statement and ask the important questions. By these acts they have to create an enlightened citizenry.