Of Arnab's Republic, nationalism, need for opinionated media & 'outdated' BBC

NEW DELHI: Priyanka Chopra may have melted under stringent scrutiny of people on Reddit, but Arnab Goswami is made of sterner stuff. Not only he answered tricky questions --- criticism later notwithstanding about his biases --- but was unsparingly scathing on people and issues he thought did not have a place in the Indian republic, at least not in Arnab’s Republic. In the bargain, he also did some suave marketing.

“Tune in and make Republic your go to channel for news. Every challenge is an opportunity. The Goliath of the Legacy Print media (Times of India group that was his former employer) tried to stop us from being launched. I have a great team. Their passion and commitment is bringing Republic to you in a few days. Back us and watch us,” Arnab started off with one of his pet themes in a Reddit interaction yesterday.

Asked by several people whether journalists should mix opinion with news reports --- something which old school journalism warned youngsters to keep away from --- the new age journalist and self-proclaimed messiah of the hoi-polloi was unabashed  in his thoughts: “For a long time, reporters haven’t expressed their opinion. When we include opinion on issues that are black and white, we make reporting an agent of change. That will be our motto.

“We believe that journalists need to set the agenda for politicians. Not just (take) their sound bytes and debate it. That’s what we will do on Republic. I trust this will set a new benchmark and we need your support... REPUBLIC is a free to air non-encrypted news channel. The only Indian English news channel that is free to air. Support us by please asking your cable/DTH operators to tune us in.”

At another place, while dwelling on news with dollops of personal opinion, Arnab opined, “Yes there is a need to balance the narrative (so called handed out by Left liberals). We have had historians who had the temerity to classify Bhagat Singh as a terrorist. 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 5x5 km zone from Malcha Marg (located near Delhi’s diplomatic enclave) to the JNU campus. Trust me, we will make that happen with Republic… We represent the REAL INDIA.”

Arnab’s new venture, supported by a gaggle of investors, is called Republic TV with its digital sibling being Republic World. Touted to have been launched on India’s Republic Day on January 26, the venture faced hiccups, mostly political in nature, delaying its formal take off. 

That’s why yesterday’s Reddit interaction was termed by some observers as of gold standard, mostly aimed at keeping the buzz up about his new(s) venture. 

The questions came thick and fast with many of those online showing a fair understanding of the environ in which Republic would operate and the ideas it would propogate.

Sample this question: You have been promoting Republic TV as an unbiased media outlet with no conflicts of interest. But with Rajeev Chandrashekhar, a strong BJP supporter and Rajya Sabha MP running the show, and Anupam Kher, another vocal BJP supporter whose wife is a BJP MP, being associated with the channel, how can you say that there won't be bias?

Terming Chandrashekhar a “nationalist”, Arnab said, “I am very proud of all my partners. Each one of them believes in my journalism. I am proud of the investment we have received from Asianet News. It is India's oldest private news channel. Rajeev is a nationalist and we share a great rapport. Each one of them believes in my journalism.”

But, what about Chandrashekhar flexing legal muscle to bring down a story on him and Republic investments on news website The Wire? What about freedom of the media? Arnab was dismissive: “About The Wire, less said the better. They are using my name to try and get some followers on their crumbling news site. :).” However, The Wire later claimed in tweets that the man just couldn’t stop speaking about them.

The incisive questioning continued. One person asked about Republic TV’s global ambitions and what were Arnab’s views on the likes of CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera. “Is (Republic) just a right-leaning news channel for local audience, a la Fox News?” was the question. The flamboyant TV anchor, who made a name on Times Now with being, what critics dubbed, the prosecutor, judge and jury”, was his usual self: “BBC is outdated. Al Jazeera is well funded.” 

The counter-comments revealed that not everybody participating in the live interaction was totally convinced by Arnab’s clarifications and jibes. Some remarks countered that the journalist’s “mask was off” and some of his answers were “poor”. 

When the questions turned towards Arnab’s fav topics of nationalism, patriotism, mostly worn on the sleeve, and an abhorrence for contrarian views on these issues, Arnab wasn’t fazed.

Asked if he was “blinded by excessive patriotism” to the point that it has become almost a “sin and a sure fire criminal case” to criticize elected officials, decisions taken by them, the armed forces etc, Arnab was categorical: “There can never be enough nationalism. More the better. We have forces that are trying to divide and break India from within. No nation can be soft on anti-nationals. My position remains the same that I took when a bunch of anti nationals tried to make the breakup of India into a slogan on the JNU campus. I took them on, even though the Lutyen's media and cocktail activists didn’t.”

Here’s another sample of patriotism in Arnab’s Republic. “I feel the army and paramilitary needs to be given greater powers in Kashmir. The state government must empower the J&K police. Before every election in the state, the party in power softens versus the separatists. I am appalled at the pictures of Kashmiris assaulting a soldier. That soldier must be decorated for his restraint and each of those goons rounded up. 

People have questioned why a Kashmiri was put in front of an army jeep. If that is the only way to stop an attack on our soldiers, I see no problem with it. No man in an Indian uniform can become prey to the cowards who shoot in stealth. I wish the legacy Indian media saw the reality,” Arnab replied when asked about his obsession with Kashmir, and Army’s role as India had much more pressing issues than “Kashmir and beef.”

According to him, “All Indians should be pro-military and pro-India. If that makes us right wing, then so be it.” 

Arnab also made clear his views on global NGOs, a line of thought that is championed by the ruling BJP too. “I don’t believe the garble that Amnesty and Greenpeace put out about my country. The limit (of freedom of expression and thoughts) 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.

“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. It’s going to happen. Believe in it. We do at Republic.”

A self-confessed social anthropologist who “trained unsuccessfully” and “likes a lot” the late feisty journalist Vinod Mehta, Arnab highlighted that he was non-partisan. As examples, during the Reddit interaction, he said, “(Congress party leader Suresh) Kalmadi didn’t want the CWG scam printed, Lalit Modi and (present foreign minister) Sushma Swaraj didn’t want Lalitgate broken, (Delhi CM) Arvind Kejriwal didn’t like the scam about 27 parliamentary secretaries and Ashok Chavan (former Maharashtra CM) made his last call before quitting, asking a story to be called off (on Times Now).”

If Arnab made the line ‘nation wants to know’ famous, his contribution to deride some of his fellow journalists as `Luyten's media’ and Left liberals too cannot be brushed aside. He was asked about these issues too and he came out all guns blazing: “The whole left-liberal phrase is a charade. How can the Delhi Gymkhana circuit be Leftist? Leftists cannot be liberal and those who are liberal cannot be leftists. So it’s also an oxymoron.”

What would be Republic’s political leanings? “I don’t compare Republic to legacy players, including those that have become after I quit. There is no political positioning (for Republic TV). There is right and wrong. I’m for the right. Those who win in grey waters are confused or dishonest.”

For the fans of Arnab on Reddit, which ranged from mushy to reverential, the interaction was a great peep into the mind of the person they held in such high esteem, but not everybody on Reddit or off it was as elated. In a tongue-in-cheek tweet, author, journalist, blogger, female rights activist Nilanjana Roy said, “The Arnab AMA on Reddit is gold. (Not for him, but in general.).” Later replying to a follower’s tweet, she quipped that Arnab should not describe his media venture as “independent”.  

Also Read:

Republic TV buzzing with pre-launch teasers featuring 'soft' targets, issues

Copy-right vs right: Who can stop Arnab from using 'nation wants to know'

Arnab Goswami: Best time to enter news market when there's no leader

Times Network MD & CEO MK Anand speaks out on l'affaire Arnab 

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