There are times aplenty when journalists forcefully defend fellow truth-seekers against disproportionate and illegitimate use of force by law enforcement agencies; and the collective net of journalistic safeguards is cast cautiously even for those independent journalists who work without the protection and privilege of large media brands. Still, outside the walls of well-guarded establishments, individual YouTubers and digital media reporters await the fate of Ram Chander Chhatrapati, the editor of Poora Sach of Sirsa, who paid the price of honest, investigative journalism with his life.
But as Arnab Goswami, the owner-editor of Republic TV, gets arrested, the question that arises first is about the due process of law and political partisanship than the instinctive defence of freedom of expression, democracy or freedom of the press. What pulls us back from going the whole hog defending the journalist is the kind of journalism he practises: a studio turned into a kangaroo court conducting media trials, pronouncing extra-judicial punishments that reek of political bias. To add to this peculiar genre of macabre theatrics is the accusation against Goswami of rigging the Television Rating Point system by bribing households that keep Bar-O-Meters to benefit his own channels.
The deep political divide over his arrest is a sad commentary on contemporary Indian journalism. Union Cabinet ministers and spokespersons of the ruling BJP have all in unison recalled the dark days of Emergency while condemning Goswami’s arrest for abetment of suicide of Anvay Naik in 2018. Whereas the Opposition-ruled Maharashtra government seems to have pounced on Naik’s suicide note to hit at their political rivals personified by Goswami. Naik’s wife Akshata had lodged a complaint against Goswami of ARG Outlier, Firoz Shaikh of Skimedia and Nitesh Sarda of Smart Work. Though the police had earlier closed the case against the three for lack of evidence, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh reopened it in May on Naik’s daughter Adnya’s insistence. After Goswami’s arrest on Wednesday, Naik’s wife and daughter have asked, ‘Why so much privilege for a journalist?’ A journalist’s privilege is only to remain the eyes and ears, and the voice of the people.