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A republic of rants: Arnab Goswami roams free despite WhatsApp chat leak

Print edition : February 26, 2021

Arnab Goswami after being released from Taloja Central Jail on interim bail in the 2018 abetment to suicide case, in Navi Mumbai on November 11, 2020. Photo: PTI

Arnab Goswami continues to roam free despite damning WhatsApp chats on security and TRP manipulation, but it remains to be seen if his protectors in the Centre will continue to shield him.

For a few weeks following the leak of a document that exposed Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami’s proximity to the ruling regime, his knowledge of classified information and his alleged complicity in tampering with television rating points (TRPs), the news space was filled with stunning revelations. Yet, after the Mumbai edition of the Indian Express published a report on January 25 on Arnab Goswami allegedly paying Partho Dasgupta, former Chief Executive Officer of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) Rs.40 lakh over three years in return for reportedly manipulating TRPs and $12,000 for two international holidays, information on the topic has abruptly dried up.

Arnab Goswami appears to be keeping a low profile, emerging only to file lawsuits. Sources said that the news anchor, although based in Mumbai, was working out of a residence in Uttar Pradesh’s Noida region. “A humiliating position to be, given his bravado personality,” a Republic TV viewer said. The case brings up a multitude of issues. According to commentators, the most pertinent one is why Arnab Goswami, who allegedly compromised national security by revealing information on the surgical strikes at Balakot, is not incarcerated, especially in the current climate of intolerance when the police are arresting journalists and levelling serious charges of sedition on the flimsiest of reasons. Arnab Goswami is also answerable to accusations against him of having flouted every ethical code of newsrooms by working in cahoots with Partho Dasgupta, a business colleague, to increase his channel’s advertising revenues. From time to time questions have been raised on Arnab Goswami’s malicious and rightwing agenda-based journalism, yet few complaints have been registered at any official media body.

Several people in the media fraternity say that he has created a brand of journalism that is so vile that it cannot be called journalism. A former colleague said: “It is not news. It is propaganda.” Moreover, his recent antics with TRP manipulation have ruined the credibility of the profession. The former colleague said: “He uses his fundamental right, the freedom of speech, to manipulate and orchestrate an agenda for a supremacist party, who do not understand democracy or this nation. Unfortunately, if we (the media) go after him, we are as bad as him.” Frontline spoke to several television industry insiders to discover that Arnab Goswami’s proximity to the ruling regime at the Centre maybe his get-out-of-jail-free card.

Also read: Arnab Goswami: Our man in the media

The production head of a television channel said: “Either he knows too much and they have to protect him, or they need him this year as there are a few critical State assembly elections such as West Bengal coming up. The other theory doing the rounds is that channels such as Times Now, which have been vicious in their coverage of the WhatsApp chat leak, are being used to bring him down. Either they will protect or destroy the man via fronts. It is anyone’s guess. The fact is, he created a monster in Republic TV, which has destroyed Indian journalism.”

Antagonising the Uddhav government

Arnab Goswami’s signature style of hyperventilating and rabble-rousing over issues he decides are important may have secured him sizeable viewership and a sense of power. But he may have overstepped his brief when he took on the Mumbai police and the Maharashtra government in the Sushant Singh Rajput case last year.

The death of Hindi film actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June 2019 was ruled a tragic suicide until Republic TV started running reports on the possibility that the actor’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty conspired to kill him. Reporters on the crime beat said that Republic TV was using Sushant Singh Rajput’s death to help the BJP’s campaign in the Bihar Assembly elections since Sushant Singh Rajput hailed from Bihar.

In a “Justice for Sushant” campaign, Arnab Goswami accused the Mumbai Polic and the State government of being incompetent and unable to uncover the truth behind the actor’s death. His campaign was seen as a vintage Arnab Goswami brand of journalism of using using an issue that would drive the BJP to victory. In this case he used Rhea Chakraborty. Once the Bihar election results came and the Janata Dal (U)-BJP alliance won in November, the story suddenly disappeared. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and the Mumbai Police wanted their pound of flesh, since they see Arnab as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) man. Persecuting him is a way of provoking the party which Uddhav’s Shiv Sena does not trust.

Also read: The sordid tale surrounding Sushant Singh Rajput's suicide

The Mumbai Police has relentlessly pursued Arnab Goswami. In its latest strike, on February 3, Deputy Commissioner Abhishek Trimukhe filed a defamation case against the news anchor, his wife Samyabrata Goswami, Republic TV and its parent company ARG Outlier. Abhishek Trimukhe alleged that defamatory remarks were made against him by Arnab Goswami during a panel discussion on Republic Bharat related to the Sushant Singh Rajput case, which was later uploaded onto YouTube. Trimukhe also said in his statement: “However, far from being a discussion conscribed by journalistic ethos, the defamatory telecast has accused no.1 [Arnab Goswami] breaking into a tirade of defamatory statements against the complainant” The defamatory remarks had been made, the police officer said, with a singular view of assassinating his official character and thereby “maliciously and deliberately causing undue humiliation of the Mumbai Police department and those who serve the public thereunder”.

The charges narrate the “sensationalistic approach” used by Arnab Goswami during the telecast and claim that it was “unbecoming of a journalist” and aimed at causing reputational damage.

With the Maharashtra government’s backing, the Mumbai Police struck back by uncovering the TRP scam in October 2020. According to the police, Republic TV paid BARC hefty sums to ensure the Bar-O-Meters, which record people’s viewership patterns, were rigged. However, it was a suicide abetment case that finally allowed the Mumbai Police to arrest him. Arnab Goswami managed to secure bail from the Supreme Court and got out of Mumbai.

WhatsApp chats

This did not deter the cops, who then filed a supplementary charge sheet that contained 1,000 pages of damning WhatsApp chats between Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta. The documents were leaked on to the Internet and went viral within minutes. The most explosive chats were those that pertained to the news anchor’s prior knowledge of the Balakot surgical strike in 2019, his willingness to act as a mediator for Partho Dasgupta on policy matters, speaking to Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor, about Kashmir, which hinted that he knew about the abrogation of Article 370 before it was announced, and his meetings with a certain “AS” at the Centre.

Obviously, this was the big story and every television and print media house pursued it. The only paper to get an exclusive was the Indian Express, which published a report alleging that Arnab Goswmai paid Partho Dasgupta Rs.40 lakh to manipulate the TRPs. Arnab Goswami lashed back by sending a cease-and-desist legal notice to the Indian Express group. Addressed to Editor-in-chief Raj Kamal Jha and two others, the notice called for a stop to the “fake, unsubstantiated, false and unverified news against Republic TV in respect of the alleged TRP scam being investigated by the Mumbai Police”.

Republic TV also filed a defamation case against Times Now editor and anchor Navika Kumar, who has been following Arnab Goswami’s story on her channel. Republic TV alleged that Navika Kumar, a former colleague of Arnab Goswami, is “jealous” of his success.

Reactions to the leaked document were intense. Political parties in the opposition called for a parliamentary probe and the families of the Pulwama victims were extremely upset and told television channels that Arnab Goswami should be ashamed of using their personal tragedy to boost ratings. However, the protests remained only verbal. Arnab Goswami remains a free man. Several political commentators have expressed disappointment over the opposition’s, particularly the Congress’, lack of gumption in taking on the anchor in this issue.

Industry insiders said that had it been the other way around, Arnab Goswami would have probably been hysterical on screen, shouting and demanding all kinds of justice.

Also read: Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp chats with former BARC official reveal conflict of interest and murky closeness to power centres, besides raising questions on journalistic ethics

A former colleague said: “He would have gone after the accused with such force and the “nation” would have passed judgement so quickly that the miserable target would not have had a chance to defend himself.” This was seen in the Rhea Chakraborty case. Fortunately, she put up a strong fight and secured bail. Arnab Goswami’s aggression towards the actor had viewers lapping up the slander and believing that she was not just guilty but also a vamp.

Another former colleague of Arnab Goswami said: “Forget the WhatsApp chats, Goswami needs to be tried for the journalism he practises. He is singularly responsible for creating a brand of journalism that is unethical, follows no rules and has no boundaries.” She added: “We have been reporters for 25 years and I would have never thought news would be covered and reported in this manner. Worse still is that the Indian audience seems to want this type of news programme and that made other channels change their method of reportage.”

She also said: “We have worked closely with Goswami, there is no truth in the theory that he is actually a nice guy who is only a menace on television because he realised that increased viewership. He is ambitious, aggressive, demanding and has an agenda that is backed by superior powers.”

Interestingly, there is silence from Arnab Goswami’s supporters. They came out all guns blazing when he was arrested in November 2020 in the suicide abetment case. They allowed him to ride an open-top jeep looking like a victorious hero when he got out of jail. But there is deathly silence over the WhatsApp chat controversy. Not even those he is close to (whose names were revealed in the WhatsApp chats) have made a statement. There is silence from the media houses which ape Republic TVs style of reporting and none from the media fraternity have defended him. In fact, the New Delhi Press Club held a meeting on January 30 in support of journalists being persecuted by the authorities. Arnab Goswami’s case was not mentioned.

Is Arnab Goswami alone in his corner or will he survive the current tide against him? A lawyer said: “It will depend on the ruling regime agenda. In Mumbai he does not have much chance of coming out unscathed given the degree of crime and enormity of the cases against him.”

The shift to the Right

Arnab Goswami cut his teeth as a news anchor at NDTV. A former colleague from the channel said that during his time in the channel (1996-2006) he showed no signs of going towards the right wing. Even when he joined Times Now, he remained a balanced newscaster. In fact, he was extremely critical of the BJP. According to a source, Arnab Goswami was called to meet the BJP’s second-in-command over the coverage of the 2014 general election. The former colleague said: “We are not sure how and why he got converted to their ideology but by the end of the 2014 election he was a genuine bhakt.” According to him, Arnab Goswami read the writing on the wall, realised that the BJP was the party of the future and decided that if he wanted a future, he better align with them.

Also read: Arnab’s Republic

When Goswami started feeling stifled at Times Now, it was former BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar who funded and helped him create Republic TV. Chandrasekhar connected him to the powers that be in Delhi and helped him build equations with the top bosses, the source said. As he built the channel, he began to realise that his hysteria and so-called patriotism was selling well. His constant questioning of people’s nationalistic credentials became part of his brand. He even took on Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and raised doubts on whether Tharoor was above board regarding his wife Sunanda’s suicide. He has his loyalists and those who say his programme is nauseating. There is a belief that he harbours political ambitions in Assam, his home State. Arnab Goswami comes from a political background and this could have some truth in it, the source said.

In August 2020, Republic TV and Republic Bharat declared that they had enjoyed a 172-week straight run as the most watched English and Hindi news channels. Figures from BARC (perhaps not credible anymore following the tampering of TRP scam) stated that with 46.62 per cent, Republic TV garnered the largest market share in the English television news. Republic Bharat was the highest in the Hindi segment with 16.40 percent. Clearly, Arnab Goswami’s mantra is to do whatever it took to make it to the top. It will be interesting to see whether the mighty will fall or remain on top.

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