Guess you win some, lose some

Updated: 11 November, 2020 07:24 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

The issue in the Arnab Goswami case isn't that he's a poor or even non-journalist, but that he's no good at business

Arnab Goswami on the day of his arrest. PIC/Atul Kamble
Arnab Goswami on the day of his arrest. PIC/Atul Kamble

picFirstly there is no 'freedom of press' in India. As in, not on paper, or in law. India's founding fathers (and mothers) did mull over special provisions for the right/freedom of journalists, to operate securely as an independent fourth estate.

But they chose to seamlessly merge this potentially fundamental right, with the already existing 'freedom of speech and expression' — guaranteed equally to all citizens under the Constitution. This is unlike the US Constitution, for instance, which earned and protected the explicitly stated freedom of the press through the First Amendment, 1791 — to be able to invoke it forever, as it happily does.

India's First Amendment, 1951, on the other hand, was partly in response to the Supreme Court overturning a ban on a leftist journal, deeply critical of government policies. The SC cited the Constitution. The amendment that followed put restrictions on the said freedom of speech and expression itself, instead!

Between the First Amendment of the Indian and American Constitution, therefore, lies the full story of the unequal state of news media, in both countries. Although there are surely many people in the press who mean just as well in India, they simply don't feel protected enough.

This also makes redundant the question of whether Arnab Goswami, Republic TV owner/anchor — running a hate-factory for a news network; night after night picking on private citizens, who are hardly a match to him in financial/political clout — strictly speaking, is a journalist at all. Should he seek sympathy on that account from the public? In an abetment to suicide case over a financial/business matter?

Fact is it doesn't matter. It's not like journalists have any special rights/privileges in any case. Either way, this question is only invoked to place journalism — like that term humanism — as a higher moral ideal/calling. Except, on the ground, there are such rare/stray exceptions as examples to support the supposed stature.

I'm not getting into journalistic biases, that are no different from personal biases, and everybody has one. Only saints (and there are none) commit to objectivity. But even for these biases to dangerously bleed out as deep-red prejudices, Goswami is not the only morally corrupt one out there — mirroring mass hysteria for personal gains; right?

Is he the first Indian TV anchor, never mind a journalist, to proverbially wear the ruling party's flag and election symbol across his suit before a television camera? He's just the most famous one. And with a personal fan-base among regular Rameshes, as he goes after his rival politicians, say. Which politicians do, all the time too, while simultaneously honouring an unspoken code that binds them together as a class.

As any pedestrian sage might suggest, it's not about what someone says — but who's saying it. Likewise, it isn't so much about what you're saying as it is about how you do. Stepping into a state of trance, Goswami hits below the belt, making choicest personal remarks, directing disrespectful barbs, challenging his political opponents, including the police commissioner, to a public duel. Do politicians usually take up such challenges of their rivals, from time to time? Hell, yeah.

Only that, strictly speaking, Gowami is neither a journalist nor a full-time politician — least of all a street fighter. He's an All India Bakchod/TV brain/eyes/tongue, aimed at gaining audiences, making crores from it, and building a political access with the ruling elite, that benefits his work.

Sure, that ensures everyone from the ministers of home, finance, I&B will tweet in his favour upon his decidedly unfair arrest (bail ought to be the norm). The governor will also intervene on his behalf with the state government, that Goswami is evidently determined to have on its knees.

But it doesn't take a Sherlock to tell who Goswami really is — foremost, a full-on businessman. And in no time, the top one in the TV news business at that. Here's the noticeable thing about top businesses in India, though. Polite to a fault, they never seem so emotionally deep into the political circus/mess, that it could personally hurt them in return. Unless one assumes permanence of a dictatorship.

India's richest man Mukesh Ambani, for instance, surely in a great working relationship with the government, can still openly show support to the opposition candidate, when it comes to the all-important Lok Sabha election in his own constituency. As he does. Anil Ambani was similarly once criticised for breaking his father Dhirubhai's principle about politics, by taking up a Rajya Sabha seat, with support of a particular party.

So instead of debating Goswami's journalism ethics, guess the question to ask is if he's any good as a businessman. Let alone that he knows his name has only recently figured in a suicide note, while he's shouting for a girl's arrest in a similar case — when no such evidence exists for her!

Also, he apparently didn't fully pay a freelance professional for an architect's job, which allegedly led to the man in debt taking his own life. This is the part that journalists will probably dislike Goswami more for. God knows the act of chasing freelance cheques have hurt Indian media professionals more than the First Amendment ever could!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 11 November, 2020 06:23 IST

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