Republic TV, the upcoming news channel, will be staunchly nationalist and pro-military, and will attempt to bring back ‘balance’ into a media dominated by a small set of academics and intellectuals in the capital, going by the comments of Arnab Goswami, the head of the channel.
“All Indians should be pro military and pro India. If that makes us right wing, then so be it,” Goswami said. “There can never be enough nationalism. More the better.”
Goswami made the comments while interacting with the public via social networking site Reddit. The interaction is seen as a precursor to the launch of the channel, which is expected to take place in the first week of May.
Asked if the positioning of the channel would be ‘right wing’, Goswami refused to give a direct answer, but said there was nevertheless a need to ‘balance the narrative’ and bring in a ‘fresh set of people’ into the studios.
Times Now, under Goswami, has been very ‘hard’ in its coverage of left-wing extremists, while most media in India portray right wing groups who fight in the name of ‘Indian culture’ — such as the cow vigilantes and Khap panchayats — as a bigger threat to the nation.
Goswami said the media, at present, gives a voice only to what he called the ‘Delhi Gymkhana circuit’ — a group of academics, analysts, intellectuals and journalists who thrive in the capital’s water holes, and inhabit a rarefied world of intellectual exercises and academics far removed from that of ordinary folk.
“These people must be brought off their pulpits. These people have had a disproportionate share of voice because a large section of the traditional legacy media has co-opted them and given them space in editorial pages and TV.
“I’m trying to change that. We need a fresh new group of people who lead opinion in India. They need to be from across India, not a 5×5 km zone from Malcha Marg to the JNU campus. Trust me, we will make that happen with Republic,” he said.
Even as he rooted for a ‘fresh set of voices’, Goswami refused to say that his channel will be more ‘right wing’ compared to the others — a kind of Fox News of India.
Instead, he chose to attack the claim that the current set of journalists and academics represent the left-liberal outlook. “The whole left-liberal phrase is a charade. How can the Delhi Gymkhana circuit be leftist,” he asked.
SOFT ON BJP?
Some users in the interaction expressed their concerns about what they felt was Goswami’s unwillingness to bring his no-holds-barred style to bear on right wing groups.
A user specifically pointed out the allegation, wondering whether Republic TV will ignore such crimes and focus only on easy targets such as Islamist fundamentalists.
“Your channel’s twitter account has been active for some months. It has tweeted on variety of topics ranging from MP Gaikwad’s conduct on the Air India flight to the AIMPLB’s stand on triple talaq,” pointed out the user.
“However, not a single word has been written on one of the most burning issue of the contemporary times, that is the murders done by cow vigilantes, and the state’s patronage of those Gau-Rakshaks. Would it be your channel’s policy to not report the murders by the right wing outfits?”
Similarly, another user by the name of jaunty2410 wanted to know if Goswami was “not covering” such incidents because he was “no longer the fearless journalist” who went against the government when the Congress Party was in power. Since the BJP came to power, the user said, Goswami has lost his aggression, transformed himself and now toes the official line and picks only soft targets. The editor did not directly answer these questions.
When asked if he was worried about ‘diminishing’ freedom of press in India, Goswami said no one threatened him when he broke scams such as the CWG. “Freedom for a reporter is in his mind. I broke many scams and many more are to come. Nobody threatened me. Threats should be water off a ducks back, for journalists.”
At the same time, he said, journalists should be careful not to misuse their freedom of expression. “The limit (of freedom) is up to the point where you don’t question India’s unity and sovereignty. That is unacceptable. No journalist can use freedom of expression to stretch that limit.”
Addressing concerns of conflict of interest with one of the main financiers of the TV project — Rajya Sabha MP and the vice chairman of the ruling NDA in Kerala Rajeev Chandrasekhar — Goswami said: “Rajeev is a nationalist and we share a great rapport.”
Goswami also said efforts will be made to transform Republic TV into a global brand that will compete with the likes of CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC and RT, once the channel establishes itself in the home market.
“We will use digital + technology + the power of our democracy + our superior knowledge of English (relative to the British and the Americans) to broadcast news globally. On every screen. In the next two years. Its going to happen. Believe in it. We do at Republic,” he said.
At several industry forums, the veteran journalist has rued the absence of a global news network based in India. A similar attempt has already been made in the form of Wion by the Zee Group — a channel that aspires to be a global news channel with a South Asian perspective.