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Was it freedom of expression when Arnab Goswami called activists anti-national?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*

India’s prime time 'hyper entertainer', Arnab Goswami, was arrested by the Maharashtra police for charges of 'abetment of suicide' of an architect and his mother, who has worked for the so-called 'number one' channel, but did not get paid. Distressed, it has been alleged, the mother-and-son duo committed suicide in 2018.
The police at that time 'investigated' the matter and found no foul play and closed the case. The distraught family was running from pillar to post, yet the then chief minister Devendra Fednavis and his administration protected Arnab, the person accused of abetment, of all the allegations.
In fact, Fadnavis should face an independent commission for upturning the entire Bhima Koregaon violence case into a conspiracy theory and then putting so many intellectuals in jail. A chargesheet has just been filed after nearly one-and-a-half years against Anand Teltumbde, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Stan Swamy, Sudha Bhardwaj and others who are not the persons who would ever spread hatred.
One may disagree with the political views of these intellectuals, with but nothing can be found in their writings which could be termed as anti-national or inciting hatred. Most of the time they have been speaking of the Constitution and the rule of law, and yet they face the tyranny of the state.
No doubt, none can or should justify police action to intimidate journalists. But as for Arnab, I am sure, police appears to have done its homework pretty well. It went to his home to arrest him in the morning. Perhaps that was not a great time as far as Arnab was concerned, as he wanted to make everything a public spectacle, as his channel had done it with Rhea Chakraborty, sought to be accused of abetting actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, when she was arrested.
The police requested Arnab to cooperate while he was accusing them of 'beating' him up. Perhaps, even in his arrest, Arnab was thinking of TRP for his channel and wanted his wife and son to broadcast live the 'entire' event with him as an 'anchor' on the live show. A clip spread around by his Republic TV showed the reporter virtually crying that his boss was being taken away in a police van.
Most of the time activists have been speaking of the Constitution and the rule of law, yet they face the tyranny of the state and Arnab's channel
The news of Arnab’s arrest spread like wildfire on social media. ‘Bhakts' and patrons of the ruling party, as also senior ministers of the Modi government, spoke for him in order to pressure and embarrass the Maharashtra government -- though it wasn’t the best of the time, as most in the media, especially TV channels, were busy with 'experts' on US elections.
An interesting part of Arnab's 'power' was prompt statements made by his 'rivals' as well as various associations. The Editors Guild condemned the Maharashtra government's act and many channels suggested that they differed with Arnab's style but condemned the 'assault on the freedom of expression'.
The argument about freedom of expression was soon questioned. Critics called it hollow, as in Arnab’s definition of the term, anyone who disagreed with him could be subjected to his bullying tactics and was anti-national, corrupt and a Naxal, and those who agreed with him won accolades, as they fitted in his narrative of legitimizing the Sangh Parivar.
Indeed, Arnab's show is not really news. It is actually hate campaign. One may argue that he has, after all, the right to speak. Freedom of expression is fine, but under the guise of freedom one cannot run fake news propaganda of the ruling party to discredit opponents, including activists. Indeed, Arnab's show is not meant for free and frank discussion on different issues, but to create an atmosphere of hate towards those who disagree with the ruling party.
Those who speak for Arnab should see how how anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters have been treated and charged with sedition, how a reporter faced FIR for reporting on hunger, how a journalist was arrested under various charges for a tweet against a BJP chief minister, how a Kerala journalist was arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) just because he was going to report on Hathras.
Indeed, Arnab is not Ramnath Goenka who fought against Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian ways. Arnab's hate campaign is not 'freedom'. If he had stood for freedom, he should have used his medium to decry all forms of fascism, suppression and religious hatred. Just promoting one kind of narrative and creating false narrative about others, insulting people on the show and carrying out sinister and planned propaganda, is not journalism.
It is time Arnab listened to his own arguments on Sushant Singh Rajput's case to keep Rhea Chakbarborty in jail. He considered word of the 'investigating agencies' as gospel truth. With with his arrest, will Arnab have a change of heart that all that the investigators say is not the final truth and people have the right to get legal aid, and let the process of law take its own course?
---
*Human rights defender

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