Fifth Column: A media lynching

Arnab Goswami is breaking a journalistic rule that is definitely etched in stone.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Updated: May 14, 2017 1:29 am
Arnab Goswami, journalism, journalistic ethics, fourth estate, Goswami journalism ethics, Goswami ethics, Republic expose, Shashi Tharoor, Tharoor expose, Sunanda Pushkar, Indian Express Arnab Goswami. (File Photo)

There is a rule in journalism that most of us follow. It is not a rule etched in stone but an unwritten one based on that old idiom that dog does not eat dog. When I tried to find out where the idiom originated and why, all I came up with was the explanation that ‘one disreputable person will not harm another disreputable person’. You do not need me to tell you that disreputable people abound in the media, but on account of the dog not eating dog principle, we of the mighty fourth estate almost never attack our comrades.

This week I am going to break this rule and write a critique of our newest English news channel, Republic. Not because I have anything personal against Arnab Goswami or against his frenetic, haranguing style of television journalism, but because he is breaking a journalistic rule that is definitely etched in stone. This is that journalists must not usurp the powers of the criminal justice system under any circumstances. If an investigation is deliberately slowed down or botched on account of political interference or money power, we have every right to point this out and we should. But, to set up a kangaroo court in which we become judge, jury and executioner is not just wrong but dangerous.

This is what Republic TV did last week with their ‘investigation’ into the death of Shashi Tharoor’s wife. The channel decided that Sunanda Pushkar was murdered and that her husband was complicit. It then tried to prove this through conspiracy theories, innuendoes and open threats to the Congress MP. We have you now, Arnab pronounced over and over again, my reporters have surrounded your house and you cannot go anywhere because we are an ‘independent channel’.

These reporters then appeared on screen to declare that Tharoor’s ‘goons’ assaulted them and pulled a woman reporter’s hair. There were no visuals to corroborate this but plenty of visuals that showed some very goon-like questioning by Republic reporters. Most reporters have had at least one door slammed in their face at some point in their career, by someone who did not want to answer questions. And this is what the visuals showed happening. Nothing more. Republic reporters used melodrama and embellishment to make themselves the story, but this was not all they did wrong.

What was really wrong with Republic’s supposed ‘scoop’ was that Tharoor was judged and sentenced on national television. His late wife who has no means to defend herself was charged with being involved with the Russian mafia in Dubai. And the fantastical theory that she died from some mysterious Russian poison was flung about as if it were a routine, credible possibility. If these things are true, it should have been Republic’s role to investigate and provide details. If the police did not do their job, it is the duty of the media to draw attention to the gaps. And, if the man who conducted the postmortem was leaned on by powerful people to declare that Sunanda Pushkar died from natural causes, then it is valid to reveal every detail. Beyond this journalists cannot and should not go.

Republic seems impatient to prove that it is different to other news channels and that it is prepared to do stories that others are afraid to touch. This is a terrific objective and may they succeed in achieving it. But to pass off a media lynching as investigative journalism causes serious damage to its own reputation and to the reputation of the Indian media in general. It also whips up a passion for lynching in an ugly season of lynchings. Social media is awash with people who want to see Tharoor arrested and jailed. False claims that he was never interrogated by the police are being spread around as fact. The worrying underside of this story, clearly evident on social media, is that people whose political loyalties lie with the BJP revile Tharoor as someone they describe as a ‘Lutyens darling’.

Once more I apologise for being the first person to misuse the name of the architect who built New Delhi. For those who do not understand why the word Lutyens is used so much these days, let me explain that it is seen as representative of a class of people who are privileged enough to live in this most exclusive enclave. What haters of the word Lutyens seem not to have noticed is that more than 99 per cent of the people who actually live in Lutyens Delhi are politicians and bureaucrats.

These are the new Rajas of India and most of them come from the same middle-class background as those on social media who spit the word out as a term of abuse. For the record, there are no ‘Lutyens journalists’. Only good journalists and bad journalists.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh

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    Mrithunjayan T
    Jun 21, 2017 at 9:10 pm
    According to this article, it is ok to expose our military to Pakistan as Barkha Dutt did during the Kargil war (and how did she gain access to sensitive military establishment is anyone's guess). Ofcourse, Bharka was given Padma Shri for exposing India's military establishment to our enemy by the Congress government. But, that's perfectly ok for Indian media. However, exposing thuggery, nepotism, chicanery as Arnab Ghoswami has time and again stood for is anti-media. Bottomline, if you speak for India, you are anti-media. If you are against India, you are the champion of the fourth estate. Nice logic Indian Express! But, do realize that the days of your foreign-funded nepotism is numbered.. !
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      Pronob Kumar
      May 23, 2017 at 5:21 pm
      Thank you , Tavleen. Really, you can express your views in such a forthright manner. you are one of our jewel. Let me add here that Tharoor is one of our most promising politician. Let's hope for the best for him.
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        Ankush
        May 21, 2017 at 6:50 am
        You guys came back? Bloody liberals!! Lutyens doesn't know how people likes arnab. Keep barking because that is the only thing you can do now. Good luck.
        Reply
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          WTF
          May 18, 2017 at 12:30 pm
          It is actually your narrative being challenged. Well, people aren't that dumb as you may presume and in the process you actually expose yourself. BARC Data (All India 1mn ) Republic 51.8 , Times Now 24.5 , India Today 8.1 , NDTV 6.9 , CNN News18 6.64 , News X 1.78 Bigger than all other English news channels put together. Republic creates history 52 market share in week one.
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            hareeshreddy23@gmail
            May 18, 2017 at 11:37 am
            I smell jealousy
            Reply
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              arvind
              May 16, 2017 at 2:27 pm
              I don't think Arnab broke any rule, rather he sets a new rule in journalising and that is INDIA first. We need to get away with this elitest frame of mind.
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                IloveIndia
                May 16, 2017 at 2:22 am
                Truth Prevails...Goood article exposing someone.....
                Reply
                1. S
                  SickularistJournoHypocrite
                  May 16, 2017 at 1:45 am
                  Tavleen Singh is an utter hypocrite. She acts like Journalists have any particular ethical standard besides taking money from the highest bidder, which is usually the stani ISI. Journalists in India are always trying to function as judge, jury and executioner. The problem for the Sickularist journos, is that they failed with Modi. Badly.
                  Reply
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