Updated: November 5, 2020 7:50:34 am
The arrest of television anchor and editor-in-chief of Republic Television Arnab Goswami for alleged abetment to suicide in a case of allegedly unpaid bills bears all the hallmarks of the Maharashtra police force going out of its way to target the channel in what appears to be a proxy battle between the BJP and the Shiv Sena-led Mahavikas Aghadi government. Goswami has been arrested in a case in which the Maharashtra police had filed a closure report last year citing lack of evidence, when the BJP was still in power. Since then, what seems to have changed is this: From baiting the state government on the migrant crisis, to alleging a communal angle in the lynching of three men in Palghar district, to accusing the Mumbai police commissioner and the Maharashtra chief minister of collusion in an alleged cover-up of the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case, Goswami has left no opportunity to target the Uddhav Thackeray government and, in the process, kept little daylight between himself and the BJP. While there could be disagreement with Goswami’s journalism and his penchant for becoming the watchdog on behalf of the establishment and the powerful, the Maharashtra police needs to explain several things: What new evidence did it find in the 2018 suicide case that warranted Goswami’s immediate arrest? Why this made-for-camera show of intimidation when a mere summons would have served the purpose? The build-up, including the case against Republic TV for an alleged TRP scam, the FIRs naming several in Republic’s newsroom, all reinforce the suspicion that the police is marching to the tune of political vendetta.
The alacrity with which several members of the Union Cabinet — from the Home Minister down — have come out in support of Goswami, invoking the Emergency and raising spectres of besieged media freedoms and “fascism”, only confirms how the political battle lines have been drawn in this case. Their outrage is selective. It does not extend to journalists being picked up and slapped with draconian laws of sedition or UAPA in other states, especially BJP-ruled governments. Even so, it is heartening to see this stellar turnout in defence of a democratic ideal.
The entire episode reflects poorly on the Shiv Sena-led ruling coalition in Maharashtra. In times when spaces for dissent are shrinking and freedom of speech needs safeguarding, the government of an important Opposition-ruled state had the opportunity to project itself as less thin-skinned and vindictive. Instead, as this paper has reported, the Maharashtra police has registered several FIRs against social media trolls after the Rajput suicide, also arresting four persons in these cases. All this can only add to the polarisation of the public space, and further shrink the middle ground, where independent journalism thrives. This should worry not just journalists, but all citizens who have stakes in a media that informs without taking sides, holds the powerful to account, speaks for the weak and those without a voice.
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