Netas Ain’t Pals Arnab, You Got Played: Yet, Press Freedom Matters

Those defending Arnab Goswami must note, in India, it’s the freedom of expression of every Indian that matters.

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5 min read

Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj
Cameraperson: Abhishek Ranjan

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… yahan ke neta ka jo swag hai... kisi Arnab Goswami ke paas bhi uss swag ka jawaab nahi!

Take a look at this cartoon by Sajith Kumar of the Deccan Herald – a Neta representing the Government of India, shedding ‘crocodile tears’ over the dramatic arrest of Arnab Goswami by the Maharashtra Police.

Netas Ain’t Pals Arnab, You Got Played: Yet, Press Freedom Matters
(Cartoon: Satish Kumar/Deccan Herald)

What this cartoon tells us is this – that for all of Arnab’s blatant partisan journalism, for all the media trials and newsroom-lynchings that he conducts as the nation’s number one ‘godi media’ person, for all the favours he did by manufacturing the Rhea Chakraborty witch-hunt to distract the public from the government’s mishandling of the pandemic and the economy, when it came to the crunch, the netas were not there for him.

They were not there when the police dramatically walked into Arnab’s home and hauled him off in a police van, ironically, over a charge of abetment of suicide – the very charge that he has spent months trying to pin on Chakraborty.

While one set of netas in Mumbai may have been the moving force behind his arrest, another set of netas in Delhi, for whom Arnab has raged and ranted for thousands of hours on air, seem to have done little beyond tweeting in chorus, against his arrest.

LESSONS FOR ARNAB

Sitting somewhere in judicial custody... possibly reflecting with brutal honesty, on the events of the last few days, the last few months, even the last few years:

  • Arnab Goswami may just be feeling that he’s been played, used – a mere pawn in the great game of netagiri. Most comments on the tweets put out by top ministers and leaders against Arnab’s arrest stop at calling it selective outrage. But Sajith Kumar very correctly describes those tweets not just as selective outrage, but as crocodile tears, fake tears.
  • And there’s a lesson there for all journalists – Yeh Jo India Hai Na... yahan ke journalist ko apne kaam se matlab rakhna chahiye… and not start imagining that they know more about politics than the politicians.
  • Netas in power – be it today, or be it years ago, be it in Delhi or Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, national or regional leaders – they don’t love journalists, they just love what journalists can do for them.
  • To be a ‘journalist with benefits’ is certainly tempting – the access to the corridors of power, the TRPs that follow. But it often comes at a price. Some end up compromising on their objectivity, becoming cheerleaders rather than truth-tellers. And yet, on a day when a journalist feels his political friends would bail him out, they’re missing. And he’s all alone... in judicial custody.
Take a look at this cartoon by Satish Acharya for Gulf News– a police-like eagle swoops in on a media-like vulture that has its own beak bloodied by its own witch-hunts. 

This is one view on Arnab’s arrest – that he had it coming. What you do unto others, could come right back and get you. Meaning, Arnab’s witch-hunt against Chakraborty and against others over the years – all the news-room name-calling, the shaming and bullying and bashing, being the vulture – in this cartoon, as it were – beware, it could also happen to you. And now, it has.

Netas Ain’t Pals Arnab, You Got Played: Yet, Press Freedom Matters
(Cartoon: Satish Acharya/Gulf News)

But it’s a view that we must disagree with. Not just as journalists, but even as citizens who believe in the rule of law. Because, no matter how much one disagrees with Arnab’s brand of journalism – the theatrics of abusing politicians, cops and ordinary folk, of willingly becoming a political proxy, we must also protest his arrest if it emerges that it is politically motivated.

The unfortunate death by suicide of architect Anvay Naik, the suicide note naming Arnab, the issue of the alleged outstanding dues of Rs 83 lakh – whether it amounts to abetment of suicide, the issue of the re-opening of the case – these are legal issues still to be ruled upon.

But, even so, as the Editorial Guild of India has put it, Arnab’s arrest is “extremely distressing” and the expectation from the Maharashtra government is that “Goswami is treated fairly and state power is not used against critical reporting by the media.” And that expectation is important.

Netas Ain’t Pals Arnab, You Got Played: Yet, Press Freedom Matters
(Photo: Twitter/EGI)

LAW, POLICE, GOVT MACHINERY CAN'T BE USED TO SETTLE POLITICAL SCORES

The law, the police, any government machinery, MUST NOT, CANNOT be used to settle political scores. We’re not sure if Arnab would bat for us if the police swooped in on us tomorrow on a flimsy charge. But we would bat for Arnab if he was targeted unfairly by the powers that be.

And that leads us to another point – which is well put in this cartoon, by my colleague Aroop Mishra and the point is – while we oppose the arrest of Arnab as an attack on press freedom, he cannot be the ONLY journalist who’s arrest we should be protesting.

Netas Ain’t Pals Arnab, You Got Played: Yet, Press Freedom Matters
(Photo: The Quint/Aroop Mishra)

We should protest:

  • The booking of Kashmiri photo-journalist Masrat Zahra, under UAPA, over a social media post she put out years ago.
  • The arrests of journalist Prashant Kanojia, not once, but twice in two years by the UP Police, again, merely for social media posts.
  • The arrest of Andrew SR Pandian merely for reporting on the challenges faced by health workers fighting COVID-19.
  • And ask why Manipuri journalist Kishore Chandra Wangkhemis is in prison, again just over a social media post.

The list of journalists who’ve been targeted by the government, by the police, is long. But while those defending Arnab launch:

  • #IAmArnab
  • #IndiaWithArnab
  • #ReleaseArnabNow

the freedom of expression of dozens of other journalists is of little interest to them.

While so many Union ministers have tweeted in support of press freedom while condemning Arnab’s arrest, the irony is that under this government, India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has fallen to #142 in a list of 180 countries!

Yeh Jo India Hai Na… here it's not just the freedom of expression of Arnab that matters, but indeed that of every Indian!

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