When senior journalist Arnab Goswami spoke to Man’s World magazine ahead of the launch of his new channel, his PR team said he would not answer questions about two subjects: The reported proximity of his new backers to the Bharatiya Janata Party, despite claims of being independent, and his opinion of a legal injunction on a news story that referred to those connections. In the very first reply during a live Ask-Me-Anything session by Goswami on Reddit, he gave an indirect response to both queries.
To put that into context, Goswami’s new channel Republic TV, which is launching soon, has spent much of its last two weeks marketing its independence and willingness to ask tough questions. Additionally, many of Goswami’s comments in the Man’s World interview are complaints about how other journalists were “compromised” because of their proximity to previous governments.
Despite that stance, though, one of the main backers of his new channel is Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament who was appointed the vice-chairman of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in Kerala in 2016. Chandrasekhar’s media approach also became newsworthy last year, when a leaked (and then quickly retracted) email from the office that controls his media investments revealed a mandate to hire journalists based on a specific ideology.
As disclosed by Man’s World, Goswami refused to answer questions on whether this would impinge on his ability to be an independent journalist. In the AMA, however, when asked specifically how he can claim no bias despite Chandrasekhar’s involvement, he said: “I am very proud of all my partners... Rajeev is a nationalist and we share a great rapport.”
Goswami, in a Facebook post, recently complained about his former employers, the Times Group, serving a legal notice to prevent him from using the phrase, ‘the nation wants to know’. Without mentioning that he himself had tried to trademark the phrase, Goswami insisted that it belonged to all Indians and that the legal notice was simply a way to bully him.
This again brings up references to Chandrasekhar because, just weeks prior, the NDA member got a court to order new website The Wire to take down two articles in a defamation suit. One of those articles makes specific references to Chandrasekhar’s involvement in Goswami’s new venture.
When asked about this too, Goswami did not mention anything about legal notices being bullying and instead appeared to defend the move, writing, “about the Wire, the less said the better. They are using my name to try and get some followers on their crumbling news site.”
The question of whether Republic will be as fearless in its questioning of the BJP-led government also came up this week when the channel posted a number of queries from Goswami, none of which addressed Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the BJP.
This prompted a satirical response from Jose Covaco on what questions Goswami would ask the prime minister.
The AMA also comes on the back of news that Goswami’s presenting style landing him in hot water in the United Kingdom. In its April 24 bulletin, the country’s broadcast regulator Ofcom has found Times Now guilty of presenting the news without due impartiality. In response, Times Now assured the Ofcom that Goswami had left the channel and its presenters now would omit personal views while broadcasting.
Ofcom conducted an investigation into Times Now’s Newshour show hosted by Arnab Goswami. The period of investigation were the months of August and September, 2016 – a time of heightened Indo-Pakistan tension following incidents such as the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani and an attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir.
No alternate viewpoints
Ofcom found the Newshour’s coverage of events biased and said it could “not identify in this programme any content that could reasonably be described as reflecting the viewpoint of the Pakistani Government, or otherwise rebutting the criticisms being made of it”.
The regulator was also critical of Goswami’s presenting style. However, it first explained the cramped format of the Newhour to the uninitiated reader:
The faces of each participant, whether in the studio with the presenter, or participating from other locations by satellite link, would appear in a box on screen. During the majority of each programme, the boxes showing the presenter and debate participants were then presented on screen in two rows.
While the Ofcom report is thorough, text cannot capture the single most important feature of Arnab Goswami’s journalism: the volume of his voice. This is how Ofcom got around the issue.
In its investigation Ofcom also made note of the fact that Goswami simply does not let some of his panelists speak.
After going through the evidence, Ofcom found Times Now guilty of violating the impartiality clause of its broadcast code.
While Times Now denied it had violated the code, it also appeared to point fingers at Goswami saying, “we can understand some people’s views that the presenter’s role on these programmes seemed to be rather overwhelming and confrontational”. The channel also communicated to Ofcom that Goswami “no longer associated with the channel”. Goswami had resigned from Times Now in November, 2016.
Times Now assured Ofcom that the presenters who had replaced Goswami had “a very different approach” and had been “bringing in a wide range of reactions and comments from the participants on the show, while ensuring that no personal views” are included in the programme.