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Not on level ground

With the SC citing Arnab Goswami’s ‘personal liberty’ to grant him bail, hope remains that the personal liberties of incarcerated journalists and activists are now safeguarded

Not on level ground
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Over the years, Arnab Goswami and his brand of journalism has flourished. Most from his team have felt the unprecedented pressure of 'breaking news' with stress levels that percolated down from a high-strung boss; but many also stayed loyal to Goswami, calling him a protective, encouraging boss, and good human being; the former may still be true, the latter is highly questionable.

From sharp, incisive investigative reports that initially spoke truth to power, the stories under his aegis became more about chasing the subjects and sticking a mic in their face, rather than reporting real news. The editorial aggression assumed epic proportions of harassment when Goswami launched his own channel, 'Republic', that took the mic thrusting and aggressive reporting and put it on steroids. Goswami's prime time news also went up several notches on the loud and brash levels. His tirades, monologues, and frankly, a lot of hamming, have become performances aimed at entertaining the viewer rather than an actual quest for truth. He hates Pakistan, bays for blood, proclaims that he gives two hoots about journalistic ethics, and still the audience loves him, as was shown in the massive outpouring of support and anguish at his arrest.

His viewers, many of them trolls and boors themselves, love the muscled image that he dons on-air. Arnab has gone from journalist to saviour, telling them exactly what they want to hear, encouraging them to be as perpetually annoyed as he is; no matter that his 'nautanki' translates into higher TRPs and therefore, better business. Whatever his modus operandi may be, currently it is working, with hundreds rejoicing his interim bail and prolific declaration of turning his channel into the top international network in less than two years and launching regional news channels across the country. While it would worryingly mean more instances of sensational and unverified news stories, his belligerence upon release was cheered by the crowds, both in his newsroom and in the virtual world.

The moot point being that Goswami for all raucous journalism should not have been arrested. The suicide case of the architect where Goswami is named can be probed but the grounds for his arrest for a case that was deemed closed almost two years ago were shaky at best. The star anchor received support from the highest echelons of the Indian government who rallied against his illegal detention. While they supported the pin-up boy of the right-wing media, their silence on several journalists who continue to be regularly incarcerated, not for allegedly abetting suicide, but for discharging their duties as a reporter, is deafening.

Justice D Y Chandrachud while granting bail to Goswami cited 'personal liberty' and said, "We are deeply concerned. If this is how human liberty is persecuted, the Supreme Court has to be there for every person... We are getting cases for personal liberty in multitudes... Our democracy is extraordinarily resilient. Our point is governments should ignore them [taunts on TV]. You think what they say makes any difference in the elections?". Goswami was indeed privileged to get hearings every four days and a speedy bail in comparison to the journalists and activists who are languishing in prison for months. Interestingly, while the esteemed judge urged governments to ignore hecklers like Goswami, comedian Kunal Kamra faces criminal contempt charges for tweets that criticise the Supreme Court.

Justice Chandrachud had also opined, "If we don't interfere in this case today, we will walk on a path of destruction". Goswami's case was not an attack on journalism or freedom of speech, and the apex court had also recently rejected lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj's bail plea on medical grounds; she has been in jail for two years. Father Stan Swamy was arrested on terror charges; apparently, there was no warrant. His request to be interrogated online given the current pandemic was also turned down; he is 83 years old and has Parkinson's disease. 80-year-old poet-activist Varavara Rao who has been in jail for over two years is bed-ridden and on diapers, but is rotting in jail.

Just look at the plight of other journalists — there is a long list of them with cases slapped against them — Siddique Kappan, Kishorechandra Wangkhem, Prashant Kanojia, Rajib Sarma, Dhaval Patel, Naresh Khohal, Rahul Kulkarni, Rajeev Sharma, Tsewang Rigzin. Just during the lockdown alone, over 25 journalists were arrested and assaulted. The editor of 'Shillong Times', 'Patricia Mukim', is still in jail for a Facebook post that spoke of continued attacks on non-tribals.

Those who wield influence and are close to the corridors of power are a small, privileged lot. They get midnight hearings and speedy justice. The rest still wait for timely action and interference of the courts even as months and years pass by. Unfortunately for them, seldom would the apex court step in to correct the wrongs; the wheels of justice move ever so slowly. The Supreme Court's words must now be followed in tone and tenor by lower courts and translate into action. The personal liberty of all must be guaranteed, not just that of a privileged star anchor.

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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