Opinion

If you care about press freedom, perhaps it’s time to boycott Arnab Goswami?

'The Newshour' anchor's refusal to stand up for fellow journalists who were subjected to assault is galling.

With adversarial debate marked by interruptions and whataboutery, sanctimonious nationalism, and invasive on-screen graphics, Arnab Goswami and his nightly show, The Newshour, on Times Now dominate English primetime news ratings to such an extent that most of his rivals have long since adopted diluted versions of his model. But the ongoing controversy at Jawaharlal Nehru University has demonstrated that Goswami stands alone in his refusal to value the principle of journalistic freedom.

Let us examine what various primetime news anchors were doing on Tuesday, February 16. Barkha Dutt of NDTV and Rajdeep Sardesai of India Today TV, who are direct competitors every weeknight, jointly led a march from the Press Club of India to the Supreme Court to protest against the violence against journalists the previous day at Patiala House court and the police’s failure to respond. Ravish Kumar of NDTV India, in many ways the anti-Arnab, not only participated in the march but featured it prominently on his 9 pm show. Zakka Jacob of CNN-IBN, a channel many feared would turn into a government stooge following its takeover by Reliance Industries, went further than anyone in his criticism of the government’s failure to protect the press.

But if, like a majority of those who watch English news, you chose instead to watch Arnab Goswami’s NewsHour on Tuesday night, you would be forgiven for total ignorance about any attack on journalists. Goswami began his nightly monologue, as usual, with a harangue, but his target was not, for a change, the JNU students, but his fellow journalists – he speaks of “the media” in a manner that suggests he does not consider himself part of it– whom he accused of misleading their readers and viewers by concealing the true extent of the “anti-national” slogans at JNU and elsewhere.

A colleague's defence

Goswami’s colleague Aditya Raj Kaul has hit back against those who criticised the anchor's absence from the Delhi march by pointing out that Goswami was at his father’s hospital bedside. But this did not prevent him from hosting his show as usual, and the line he took suggests that even if he had been at liberty to attend, he would not have done so.

During the debate that followed the monologue, perhaps mindful of the common criticism that, in this instance, he has been deferential towards the government, Goswami launched a half-hearted attack on Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman Sambit Patra, accusing the government not of coming down too hard on the students but on not coming down hard enough. He demanded more arrests. The only time he was silent was when he allowed former intelligence offer RSN Singh an extended tirade against JNU faculty, whom Singh said needed to be “purged” wholesale.

Leave aside Goswami’s hypocrisy. Having refused to show his viewers JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar’s moving speech, with its appeals to Parliament and the Constitution, he is no one to talk about concealing the whole truth. It is his refusal to show the slightest solidarity with his fellow professionals that is so galling.

Repeat offender

In Patiala House, journalists were prevented from doing the most basic aspect of their job – reporting – through physical violence and intimidation. The police present deliberately declined to fulfill their most basic function – protecting citizens from violence.

Subsequent statements by Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi and Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju illustrate the extent of the government’s concern for the journalists. Speaking to CNN-IBN, Rijiju dismissed the incident as “minor” and asked rhetorically whether anyone had been murdered.

This was a direct threat to the freedom of the press, perpetrated by a mob but abetted and implicitly encouraged by the state. The extent of the solidarity shown by print and television journalists is proof that even the country’s most prominent and powerful media figures directly feel this threat.

Our news channels crassly proclaim their superiority to the competition, constantly patting themselves on the back for real or imagined accomplishments. Most of our newspapers have explicit or implicit policies that ban the mentioning of a rival in print. The Indian media scene is characterised by vigorous competition, which on the whole is a good thing. On this occasion, that competition was suspended. Goswami stood alone in his lack of any regard for the profession he purports to practise.

This is not the first time that Goswami has chosen to attack fellow journalists rather than to stand up for the principle of press freedom. When NDTV was barred from broadcasting the documentary India’s Daughter on the December 16, 2012 gang-rape incident in Delhi, he accused the channel of “voyeurism”, and with a delicious lack of self-awareness of a “desperate attempt to get TRPs”.

But even by his standards, this time is different. To refuse to stand up for fellow journalists when they are subjected to assault, indeed to indict them rather than the state that has condoned the assault, is to display a staggering selfishness and want of principle.

Taking a stand

Goswami’s lonely stance has not gone unnoticed by supporters of the government’s position. The filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri claimed that participants at the march spent time plotting Goswami’s downfall.

The columnist Swapan Dasgupta called Goswami the “real, unspoken target” of the march, and in a chillingly Orwellian turn of phrase, lauded Goswami for his “dissent”, a word that apparently now means the aggressive, jingoistic embrace of authoritarian state action.

Far from a brave dissenter, Goswami, with flames rising from the bottom of the screen, and his voice achieving ever more impressive feats of indignation, has come increasingly to resemble Lewis Prothero, the hyper-nationalist TV host in the film V for Vendetta.

Like his occasional panelist, the author Chetan Bhagat, Arnab Goswami appears to relish criticism, which he uses to perpetuate his narrative of an outsider challenging the media establishment. So it is time to do more than merely condemn him.

He often congratulates himself on featuring a wide range of views on his show. The Newshour relies on the participation of journalists, activists, politicians and other citizens. At this point, any journalist who appears on The Newshour is in effect endorsing Goswami and his refusal to stand up for the profession. The same is true of other non-journalists who believe in the principle of press freedom. Even when press freedom is not at stake, those who have been invited to express the position opposed to Goswami’s are subject to hectoring, ridicule and humiliation. It is time for all of those who value a free and strong press and a productive public discourse to boycott The Newshour. The loss of a few minutes’ television time is a price worth paying.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Eleven ways Indian college life teaches you not to waste anything

College, they say, prepares you for life. Sometimes in the most unexpected ways.

Our quintessentially Indian ability to make the most of every resource has weathered us through many a storm in life. But this talent, as it were, is developed and honed to a fine art only in college. Frugality is a prominent feature of college life—more by circumstances than by choice and perhaps the most important skill we learn is nearly 100% efficiency when it comes to making the most of resources or opportunities. This “no wastage” policy is learned through many ways in college.

Academics
When it comes to studying, the art of “no wastage” is refined in college.

1. Exam papers. We’ve all been there before: you’re in the flow and trying to pen answers quickly in your answer sheet but you’re running out of space. What do you do? Fill up your existing one, of course. Write in tiny handwriting and occupy every bit of space without wasting the margin either. A great example of how college teaches you to waste nothing.

2. Photocopier bulk deals. In college, after you convince a kind-hearted classmate to let you copy their notes, you negotiate a bulk rate discount with the photocopier uncle and share the wealth with your classmates. It saves you time, money and the collective shame of failing together.

3. Stationery. Pencils are worn till they reach a stub. Broken rulers are used as long as you can still draw a straight line on them. Pens are borrowed and reused until their ink is sucked dry. Stationary is rarely wasted in the life of a college goer.

Food
Food occupies a special part of a college goer’s life and there is only one rule when it comes to food: don’t waste any.

4. Thalis. College kids are always hungry, and there are few options that provide better value for money than thalis. Thalis come in all sorts—the Gujarati kind on copper plates, the south Indian variety on palm leaves, or even the Punjabi “mini thali” found in restaurants all over the country. No matter what form they take, no food goes waste.

5. Shaadis. Speaking of food, you never say no to a wedding invitation when you’re in college. An invitation missed is a buffet meal wasted. The only price is to put on a half-decent looking dress or a pant and shirt that have been pressed. Then enter the hall, say your hi-hellos, and onto the food. No opportunity to attend shaadis is wasted during college, and rightly so.

6. 50p toffees. Those were heady times when things had the decency to cost nine rupees fifty paise instead of a full ten. The remaining 50 paise left over as change would not go waste either, and would return more often than not in the form of a chewy toffee or mint.

7. One-by-two coffee. Because coffee shared is friendship enhanced. In college, a full cup of canteen coffee was always cheaper than two half cups, and nearly impossible to finish owing to its milky sweetness. Converting it into a one-by-two courtesy an extra white styrofoam cup ensured that neither the extra coffee went to waste, nor a chance to make a friend happy.

Travel
Space is to be shared, not hogged. Every seat in college be it on the bench or a bike or a rickshaw would be occupied till its last inch.

8. Triple seat scooter rides. College-goers of a certain vintage remember that scooters were made to accommodate more people than cars. One person riding, another in the back, and at least one if not two people sandwiched between them. While this ensures no wastage of space, it’s not to be tried by the faint-hearted.

9. Share autos. The cheapest way to travel, of course. Share autos are a lifeline for college goers. Load up your friends in an auto, share the fare, and end up with more money in your wallet.

10. RAC tickets. Among the great innovations of the Indian Railways is the RAC or Reservation Against Cancellation ticket, which ensures that travelers can travel on the train even if they do not get a full berth to themselves. More often than not, two travelers split a seat. A boon to college students who don’t mind roughing it a little to get to their destination on time.

Freebies
College teaches you many things. The ability to not waste freebies is prominent on the list.

11. Buy one, get one free. The five little words that every college student wants to hear. Be it movie tickets, rock concert tickets, clothes, books or meals, a “one-on-one free” offer would always be utilized even if you didn’t need what the offer was selling. An unwritten if long-standing rule in college.

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This article was produced on behalf of Airtel by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

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