Lynch – mob television or angst, anger and Arnab Goswami

If anyone should hang his head in shame today (his own words) it is none other than Mr. Arnab Goswami. His totally unfair and savagely brutal assault on the Indian cricket team on the 26th of this month would have been shocking were it not for the fact that this is what we have now come to expect from him every night. The hollowness of his manufactured outrage is evident by the result of yesterday’s final where Australia clinically destroyed even the mighty New Zealand, the best team in the World Cup so far. It only reinforced what was clear to anyone – that the odds on India beating Australia were slim. There was therefore no ignominy in India losing to them: in fact we put up a much better performance than New Zealand. To have branded this loss, therefore, as a national shame and surrender, and to have bayed for blood was a travesty of responsible journalism.

But this is only the latest indicator of a deeper malaise in our television reportage. (I speak primarily of the elite, English channels). Most discerning viewers would have noticed that of late there has been a growing, cancerous trend in these so called “news channels” to dispense with facts, impartial reporting or any scientific investigation, and to shape their “reporting” on the basis of the anchors’ own bias and pre-determined conception of what one thinks is right. In this fraudulent exercise panels consisting of equally biased and dubious “experts” are railroaded into discussions where any dissenting view is shouted down and the pre-determined verdict loudly endorsed. Not only is such conduct contrary to the best traditions of journalism, it also insults the viewer because it presumes that he is an idiot who can be led by the nose by any aggressive, opinionated and over paid anchor.

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This unholy trend appears to have been set by Mr. Arnab Goswami who has now become the doyen of dyspeptic declamation, and all other channels and anchors are in a race to catch up with him: the trend is fast becoming the norm. (Incidentally, it is my personal opinion that the only anchor who still conducts his discussions and presentations professionally and gives a fair chance to every point of view is Karan Thapar).

This grotesque and unhealthy empowerment of this media space probably began with the Jessica Lal and Nitish Kataria cases where the media undoubtedly did a stupendous job in highlighting the inadequacies and malfeasance by the accused and the police in both these cases. Their efforts resulted in justice finally being done. The sense of power, however, instead of leading to similar responsible reporting appears to have intoxicated our anchors and their producers to a point where they now don’t give a damn about the facts or about people’s reputations or about interfering in criminal investigations or even about national security.

In the last few years Mr. Goswami and his ilk have repeatedly condemned as guilty, by innuendo and by asking “questions” and misinterpreting facts people who have either been acquitted by courts or yet to be found guilty. Remember the unfortunate Mr. Pandher of Nithari fame ? Night after night he was portrayed on these channels as a monster for whom even hanging was too good. Today he stands acquitted in all but one of the eight cases against him (even this last one is just a matter of time). But in the process he was so reviled that he was beaten up by the public during court hearings and has lost every last shred of his standing in the public.

Sashi Tharoor has been pronounced a murderer by these channels without a shred of evidence against him so far, and has been persistently hounded for months. In the process Mr. Goswami has metamorphosed himself into a Sherlock Holmes, forensic expert, cyber wizard and mind reader, all in one, whereas the police has yet to even name Mr. Tharoor in the FIR or find any iota of evidence against him.

In the unfortunate case of the death of K. Ravi just about every channel had the same epiphanic revelation and announced that the IAS officer had been killed / committed suicide as a result of political pressure; they roundly denounced the hapless Chief Minister and the state police as conspirators in a cover-up operation – all this within twenty four hours of the death, even before any post mortem or forensic examination was conducted. And now that all the emerging evidence points to a failed infatuation as the most likely reason for an undoubted suicide, all these same anchors have gone silent on the case, without a word of apology, and moved on, like dung beetles, to fresher pickings.

But there is worse. Even grave matters of national security are not safe from their lynch mob mentality. The interception and blowing up of a suspicious boat off our western coast sometime back was not only a job well done by the Coast Guard, but also a matter to be handled with the greatest sensitivity. It had implications for the morale of our forces, for our security infrastructure post 26/11, for international maritime regulations, for our relations with Pakistan. In at least this instance our doubting Thomases should have gone by the version of the Defence Minister, unless they had irrefutable evidence to the contrary. But our anchors cannot go to sleep at night unless they have slain a few ghosts that perpetually haunt their mental regions. And so, with no evidence at all to back them up, they tried their damnedest to sabotage the government’s explanation of the event, casting doubts on the Defense Minister, the Navy and the Coast Guard, demanding that the whole video be made public. As usual, they have gone silent on this matter now.

The best thing that could have happened to our efforts at finding peace in Kashmir is the BJP-PDP alliance that will now govern the state for the next five years. Any sane person can see that this can be the bridge between an alienated Kashmir and the rest of India, and therefore this bold experiment needs to be supported by all. But our anchors will just not see it that way – every second day, on the flimsiest of grounds, the CM is branded a traitor or Pakistan sympathiser, the BJP as a party that has gone back on its promises and betrayed its supporters, and Jammu region constantly played up against the valley. This is not only anti-national and mischievous, to my mind, but also dangerous and highly irresponsible. Instead of using its undoubted influence to heal the wounds in the state the media is actually exacerbating it.

One could recount any number of similar instances where these anchors have assumed larger than life proportions and adopted such negative roles that they are in violation of national interests, social mores, professional ethics and even legal obligations to other citizens. That they have also done some good work in moulding public opinion and exerting pressure on authorities is not in doubt. But this is precisely why their lynch mob mentality in other cases is so unfortunate: it detracts from their other achievements, effects their credibility and turns off the more aware audience. It also fosters a similar lynch-mob mentality among the general public, erodes (without any basis) our faith in the administration and the judiciary, and makes the country increasingly ungovernable. These channels must realise the enormous influence they wield, and such a realisation should be a humbling experience, not an adrenalin dose for further demagoguery. They should be reporters, not moralists; they should inform, not judge. To quote John Williams from his ” AUGUSTUS”:

“The moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgements rather than upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that judgement is easy and knowledge difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgements reflect a vision of himself that he would impose upon the world.”

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

3 Comments

  • good article: except the sentence about Karan Thapar. I find Karan Thapar as father of interruptions in interviews in Indian TV journalism….

  • Enjoyed the article thoroughly. On the few occasions I had the misfortune to catch the Arnab Goswami vaudeville on TV, I was deeply repelled by this motor-mouth of a harangue machine. Hence, I am totally mystified by his large fan following.
    The one discordant note in your article was the “gives a fair chance to every point of view” comment about Karan Thapar! Based on a few random viewings of his interviews on Youtube, KT came across as a smug and snarky interviewer who felt the need to restate and parse every comment uttered by his “low IQ or at least far lower than Mr KT” guest on his show!

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