The journalism fraternity sometimes is unsure what to make of Republic TV. The news channel built around Arnab Goswami is frequently accused of disrespecting journalistic norms and reporters bullying subjects, and has even had the Delhi High Court tell it to temper its coverage. Most disturbingly, Goswami, both at Republic and in his previous job at TimesNow, has often spoken out against rival media, calling for people who disagree with him to be put on trial or boycotted, rather than speaking up for press freedom. So when a group of journalists in Chennai decided to walk out of a press conference with Gujarati politician Jignesh Mewani, when he demanded the Republic reporter leave, the move sparked a massive debate.
The main question being asked was simple, although it actually covers a host of thorny issues: Should fellow journalists support Republic, especially if their support is unlikely to be reciprocated?
According to the Newsminute, Mewani, a Member of Legislative Assembly from Vadgam, was speaking at a media briefing after interacting with a number of activists and students at the Qaid-E-millat International Academy of Media Studies. As the briefing was about to begin, a number of mics were placed in front of him, including one belonging to a journalist from Republic TV.
“I won’t answer questions. Remove the mic,” Mewani said, according to the Newsminute, insisting that it was his policy not to speak to the channel. While other journalists attempted to pacify him, he was insistent. This prompted Shabbir Ahmed, a reporter from TimesNow, to say that Mewani can’t demand which mic goes where followed by telling the Gujarati leader that he can leave, “we don’t want this press conference.” Other journalists then joined in support, and no news briefing ended up taking place.
The move instantly led to reactions online, some of which was in support of the solidarity media organisations showed.
Others admitted that even if they do not like Republic TV’s approach to journalism, the other media persons at the press conference had done the right thing in not letting a politician dictate terms.
Others pointed out that Republic was unlikely to return the favour if another journalist was in the same position, a fact that should speak volumes about the sort of journalism it practices.
The question actually throws up a whole host of issues.
In ordinary circumstances, journalists would be united in opposition to a politician attempting to pick and choose which media outlet gets to be at a press conference. But Republic TV brings up unusual questions, only one of which is the fact that it is partly owned by a Member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party-run National Democratic Alliance who has admitted that its entire approach is to get as much market share as possible.
Republic TV journalists use a confrontational approach at any press meet, a style that was developed by Goswami at TimesNow, in which they attempt to make their own reporter the story and heckle, bully and browbeat a source into giving a bite. In case someone complains about having a mic shoved in their faces or being harassed by a reporter, the channel then has a tendency to play the victim and claim that the subjects are refusing to answer questions.
This unseemly approach has been normalised, in part because the self-regulatory bodies that are supposed to govern news outfits, whether it is the Editor’s Guild or the News Broadcasters Association, have little to no influence over actual newsroom practices. This means that even if journalists are unhappy with the approach that Republic TV takes, there is little they can do about it. Moreover, any sign that journalists condone a politician’s decision to take action against an individual news outlets runs the risk of sending the signal that such moves are acceptable – which the media is wary of doing, because it can easily be turned on its head and used against a legitimate news outlet in the future.
As a result, even if it means obliquely endorsing a news channel that many have deep issues with, journalists feel the need to stand up in solidarity with Republic TV. Some, have, however suggested that there are other tactics politicians can use if they don’t want to keep giving oxygen to channels like it: