For quite some time now – in fact, for as long as I can recall ever since Arnab joined the Times Network and spearheaded Times NOW to its position of unchallenged pre-eminence where it has remained firmly ensconced even after he moved on – it’s been Arnab taking on and questioning, challenging, exposing what he calls “the status quo in Lutyens’ Delhi”.
The man has changed the rules, refused to be a town crier or a news gazetteer expected to banally list out new developments without giving it any perspective just because it is said a journalist mustn’t editorialise. Which, to me too, as a trained journalist and former Editor, seems a vacuous approach, because no one – but nobody – can hear or receive a piece of news without reacting to it emotionally, from her or his standing or belief on the issue at hand. You cannot be emotionally disconnected with the news, and from both – the emotional standpoint and due to the fact that social media and live television keep bringing you the updates, you need to know not just what happened, but how it will impact you. Truly, the place of the editorial is within the reportage, and not just on the isolated edit page.
And particularly when it comes to issues of national pride, security or importance, Arnab has always hurtled into and pinned down ambivalent fence sitters with his passionate, feisty expressions of opinion, questioning, challenging, seeking answers and exposing double standards.
I believe that every student and practitioner of media, news and journalism, must read, cut and keep or save-to-home-page Arnab’s clear, bold statement of fact and intent that should become a way of professional and personal life for every journalist in India
There is a wonderful line in a great Sikh prayer, which goes: ‘Nirr-bhau, Nirr-vair’, which translates into ‘Without fear or malice’. To me, that one prayerful iteration that every Sikh makes to the Gurus – to bless them with the strength to become sans fear and malice — is what defines Arnab as a journalist and a human being. Without fear and malice. Of course he wouldn’t have been able to make such a big difference to (literally) old-school journalism without the solid belief and support he received over the years from the evolved top leadership at the Times Network, but the fact remains that it was Arab’s passion and integrity that helped the Times Network too to push the needle a long way in the how Television news has evolved, largely through its TV channels. It was a truly wonderful and rare partnership.
Some time back, I had shared a seminal account for both, practicing and aspiring journalists and editors, a ‘how to’ in the words of one of India’s greatest editors, my dear friend and the late, great Vinod Mehta. Thereafter, hadn’t come across anything worthy of following it up with for practicing and aspiring journalists alike. Till, on the 20th of February, I watched Arnab Goswami’s wonderful address to a packed audience at an event by FICCI FLO in Chennai.
And I believe that every student and practitioner of media, news and journalism, must read, cut and keep or save-to-home-page this clear, bold statement of fact and intent that should become a way of professional and personal life for every journalist in India.
In spite of busy schedules, Arnab loves to take time out for students of media and journalism. I remember his address to students of St Paul’s Spice Institute of Media, the excellent professional institute run by my dear friend Carol Andrade. Arnab advised the students there to tell themselves there is no fixed formula in life, and certainly not in journalism, so they must change the rules… that they must have their opinion and express it. Rather than hide opinion, put it right up there on top, to connect the dots, refuse to take things at face value… to just stop being the gazetteer of India… to see a story through, never drop it midway for any reason whatsoever… to keep up the fight and never stop fighting or stoop to doing ‘selfie journalism’. To follow the short, simple, most important thumb rule of journalism: Never be afraid… for you can do anything if you have integrity, so really, lose everything in life, but don’t lose your integrity! “I think people are scared of what this new journalism will bring to this country,” Arnab had told the students at Spice. “Because there’s a status quo and the status quo is in Lutyens’ Delhi. And we can change it if we just change the way we do our journalism.”
Well, it’s time for a long read. A long, insightful, thought-provoking read about the media, the news, the responsibilities of good journalism, and a scathing indictment of the ambivalent fence-sitters. An inspiring read for every student of media and journalism.
Read, enjoy the language and marvel at the fearless, unequivocal passion of a wonderful journalist and editor who is the true harbinger and champion of the new school of journalism in India. Whose belief, rules and passion can extend seamlessly from television news to every other format and pipeline of news delivery, in India and anywhere else in the world.
I give you Arnab Goswami. Uncut. To save on your (mental) home page. I’ve also put up the entire audio of Arnab’s speech after the transcript, as a podcast.
Over to Arnab. Be inspired! – Pavan R Chawla)
It’s really nice and heartwarming today to be among you. But I’m a little perplexed. On one side you say you miss me and then you put up a subject saying ‘How tolerant are we?’ With my picture on it. In the age of double meaning I don’t know what to make of it!
But I’ve missed you too. Every night I miss you. During Jallikattu I missed you. When Jayalalitha passed away, at that time I missed you. And when this drama with Sasikala happened and then when some anchors were trying to be politically correct because that’s the new fashion… the politically correct. I missed you. When Suresh Kalmadi almost became the president of IOA again six weeks after I quit, I’ve missed you. I wanted to go on the streets and scream again. When Masarrat Alam got released in Kashmir — a known terrorist, a defender of Pakistan and nobody said a word — I missed you then. When 30 women got groped on new year’s eve in MG road in Bengaluru and in Kammanahalli and at that point of time instead of focusing on what was happening in Bengaluru, the national media reported with ruthless detail the jugalbandi between Akhilesh and Mulayam for three weeks, not talking about what happened in Bengaluru, then I missed you!
I wanted to come back, but I don’t have a satellite yet. And my studio is not ready. I’m already on the breaking news. You call your cable operator after this. We are coming back in two months.
Republic is not just India’s first independent news venture, it is not just the first defining step of India’s news venture – which it will be with your blessings and our combined work. Republic is not just a news channel for me, it is not just a dotcom. Republic is now a people’s movement. And it is our movement.
But today as I speak to you I want to say more, I want to tell you more, I want to tell you about what we are on the cusp of, what we are going to do as we leap into the future. I want to tell you about what Republic is about.
I’ve been a journalist 21 years. I walked up the staircase of NDTV 21 years back. I was taken to a small room in solitary confinement and in a very deep voice someone told me, ‘Remember son, remember, never express your opinion!’
Something went wrong.
The last 10 years have been magnificent. Every day I get hate tweets from across the political spectrum. I get threats. So many people have said “We will make you lose your job; you will be on the streets. Arnab it will be worth nothing for you in the end!” Some crazy people call me a Congress supporter. Some people call me a Sanghi. Some call me a BJP supporter… The list goes on.
Today I want to explore before you a question which will define what kind of journalism I do and what kind of journalism I truly believe in, and that question actually is in that – How tolerant are we? I want to talk about my profession and I will put six questions before you today. And at the end of it we’ll have a conversation on the subject.
Question one: How tolerant are we? And I will elucidate each one with examples before you today. To raise a principal question at the end of this conversation we’ll talk about what the future of Indian journalism should be. What we are doing right. What we have done terribly wrong and what we need to change — and change immediately — and from that I will soak the answers and then we will go and together we will launch Republic two months from now.
My first question to you is this: Why are the tolerant so intolerant? And can we tolerate it any longer in this republic? Those people who say we are the tolerant, we preach tolerance, we talk about tolerance; why are they so intolerant in turn?
Why are the tolerant so intolerant? And can we tolerate it any longer in this republic? Those people who say we are the tolerant, we preach tolerance, we talk about tolerance; why are they so intolerant in turn?
Let me give you example number one if I may. There’s a documentary called India’s Daughter by Leslee Udwin which was put out about two years back. The inexplicable intolerance of the intolerable by some parts of the media. Let me lay before you the facts. Third March 2015, exactly 795 days that is two years, two months and four days after Nirbhaya’s death. That’s the timing. What was the story in its own words? A British documentary filmmaker Leslee Udwin makes a documentary on Nirbhaya’s rape which included in great detail for some salacious reason a detailed interview with the rapist in plain clothes a month after the Indian courts convicted him to death.
The starting point was a story which we picked up from The Guardian on 3rd March 2015. The irony was that the self-proclaimed tolerant and liberal media brigade in Lutyens’ Delhi were willing to give a primetime slot to the rapist on national and global television!
I sat in a newsroom for a moment trying to rationalize how we have reached such levels of tolerance so as to tolerate a rapist’s description of rape on national and global television, and if this is what BBC teaches as good journalism, I didn’t want to learn anything from them
I still remember the words of the rapist Mukesh Singh. They seep and ring in my ears! … Mukesh Singh the rapist says — and this is what the channel was fighting for in the name of liberal media, and freedom of expression. Mukesh Singh says, the rapist says, ‘You cannot clap with one hand, it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at night. A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy. About 20% of girls are good. She should just be silent and allow the rape’. Then they would have dropped her off after doing her and only hit the boy.
And I sat in a newsroom for a moment trying to rationalize how we have reached such levels of tolerance so as to tolerate a rapist’s description of rape on national and global television, and if this is what BBC teaches as good journalism, I didn’t want to learn anything from them.
The hypocrisy is this — and I’ll take this discussion forward — that the same British media that positioned itself as though it was leading the women’s movement in India by simply propping up its cameras through the candle light vigils and protests around Nirbhaya’s brutal rape in December 2012, became the very platform that allowed the broadcast of that rapist on its TV screen and then grew growingly intolerant when we questioned, when I questioned, why the media in this republic should give a … rapist … a stage to broadcast his brute and bestial mindset. So my first question on the issue today, How tolerant are we, is this.
Let me give a second example — and I really want to do some plain speaking today because I have not been given the chance for two and a half months. I wrote down these examples and I said let me start a conversation because this country is not having a conversation for a few months. Something has gone terribly wrong. It’s like we are a country of politically correct people. Saying the right thing, observing the right thing.
Anyway, on 18th September 2016, 7 months 9 days, that is 222 days after the liberals in India were outraged that our team — when I was with Times now — spoke against the anti-India slogans that were chanted like an anthem in the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Something happened. For me… there is a right and wrong, there is a white and black, there is a truth and untruth, there is falsehood and there is truth, there is reality and there is fiction. There is no grey area there. We cannot alternate between the two.
What was embedded in my experience of the hypocrisy of the liberal lobby shone right through this country and the rest of the world on 18th September 2016, when 19 of our jawans were martyred in Uri. There were no protests! There was no candlelight vigil! There was no petition! JNU was quiet! Kanhaiya disappeared; he was nowhere to be seen. There was no championing of causes. The hypocrisy is this: that the same lobby that pretends in their own convenient way … to be the torchbearers of our national interest in the 21st century under the garb of freedom of expression… to be torchbearers of where the country should go or not go… these are the people who were absolutely silent when 19 of our martyrs died in Uri!
Which is my first question: Why are the tolerant so intolerant, and can we tolerate it any longer in this republic?
My second question is this: Should there be tolerance in this republic for those who run down our country?
It’s a very simple and straightforward question. We all stood for the National Anthem right before this. Which direction I say is our tolerance headed, that is the focal question this evening. Should we become so tolerant in the garb of becoming a liberal society, what people say is an open society… should we become so tolerant that we begin to grow immune to everything that goes against India’s national interests?
Last year … a bizarre debate broke up. When JNU happened everything was about: Can I run down my country and be considered to be a liberal? What was my education for? Why am I educated? Why did I go to a foreign university? Why am I in JNU if I cannot have my own opinion on whether India should break up or not? I mean, if your position is so infantile that the only way to provoke people is to demand the secession of India, then you should go back to kindergarten! But the point is not that.
The point is I recall being in the studio as the headlines were flying past last year, trying to wrap my head around how not standing up for the (National) Flag, or not standing up for the National Anthem had suddenly in India, in February 2016, become some kind of a fashion statement for a particular faction! And while I make my position clear, it was only a matter of time that I saw a pattern to it.
There is a pattern to it. The fact is there is a thread of tolerance for those who oppose standing up for the Flag, for those who say it’s okay to make a fashion statement and sit while the National Anthem is playing, is exactly the same lobby that clamors and fights and demands mercy for Yakub Memon. Should I be blind to it? … I’m connecting the dots and the reality is this. And I ask… is tolerance in India defined as supporting the likes of Yakub Memon and keeping quiet about the celebration of our Flag or our National Anthem? This is a question I think we must ask now.
Is it liberal and tolerant that a convicted terrorist is labeled innocent, and the lives of 257 people who died in the 1993 attacks takes a backseat to the human rights of Yakub Memon?
Is it liberal intolerance that a man labeled the architect of the worst terror attacks in India is projected like a face of victimhood and persecution, and if it is liberal and if it is tolerant, then why is it not liberal and a burning degree of saying that we will not tolerate talks with Pakistan till they stop killing our soldiers? Why is it not liberal to call Maoists out on their violence?
Why is it not liberal to question the selective hypocrisy of those returning their awards and why is it not liberal to question someone who refuses to stand up for the National Anthem? I ask the counter questions. We want the counter questions.
Which takes me to question number three. And question number three on the same subject: Should there be a prolonged tolerance for duplicity on tolerance?
Let me explain it. What are we here to discuss today? The point this evening is of duplicity and bowing down to duplicity.
The point this evening is of our combined intolerance for hypocrisy.
The point this evening is about the residing collective apathy to selected action, selective outrage and selective intolerance.
The point, therefore… is about perpetually and dangerously being tolerant to living in a perpetual state of grey.
Now let me tell you, I am talking to you in Tamil Nadu. I will now elucidate my argument with points. My point is this.
I have three questions.
Question number one: Jallikattu versus Greenpeace.
Let’s deal with the issues one by one. On January 12th 2017, the Supreme Court rejected a plea by a group of lawyers seeking an urgent ruling on a clutch of petitions on Jallikattu so that the sport can be organized during this year’s celebrations.
My question is this, and think about it: Why is it that those who question Jallikattu are the same people, are the exact same people… connect the dots…! they are the same people who refused to question Greenpeace when in April 2015 it came to the fore that according to official records this environmental NGO had run into a plethora of FCRA violations. Connect the dots. My job as a journalist is to connect the dots. We are not doing it for the last three months. We are not reading the motives. We are not seeing the truth. We are reporting things in black and white and absolutely correct if the job of a reporter is to just chronicle events then he should not become a reporter. He should stand in a court and write down exactly every judgment as it is passed.
Why is it that those who question Jallikattu are the same people, are the exact same people… connect the dots…! they are the same people who refused to question Greenpeace when in April 2015 it came to the fore that according to official records this environmental NGO had run into a plethora of FCRA violations
My question is this. Let’s go on Jallikattu versus Greenpeace. Why is it that in April 2015, when my group of journalists had put out in the public domain official documents showing that the intelligence agencies of India had reasons to believe that Greenpeace was not working only against India’s economic interest but also had its accounts frozen and license deregistered on the basis of documents that prove that this foreign-funded NGO indulged in several FCRA violations. Why, ladies and gentlemen, was there a muteness by those who positioned themselves as tolerant and liberal? All those people who spoke about it, not one of them said that Greenpeace was breaking the rules. These are the same people who took a position on Jallikattu. I see a motive there. And why is it that those who stand foe the environmental good that Greenpeace supposedly is doing in India, are completely quiet about the nuclear instillations in the rest of the world? Why have we become so immune to allowing those self-proclaimed – quote-unquote – liberals of this country to become torchbearers of those who oppose India’s national interest? These are questions that we have not asked.
Now let me go further into detail. My question is the duplicity on tolerance.
Question number 2. The Salman Rushdie ban.
Example number two: the Salman Rushdie ban versus the Taslima ban.
In November 2015, a senior member of the Congress party by the name of P Chidambaram — I’m not mentioning the other senior member — he strolled out suddenly and he had a revelation. He said that the ban on Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was a mistake. You remember that? This fantastic acknowledgement by Chidambaram twenty-seven years after the book was banned during the Rajiv Gandhi government.
Salman Rushdie then tweeted by saying “How many more years before the ban is corrected?” Relevant question, ladies and gentlemen. But tell me, how many people stood up for Taslima Nasrin in Hyderabad in 2007 when Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India MIM attacked her with bricks at a book release function. Where was the media then? Where was this liberal media when a woman called Taslima Nasrin was being physically attached and assaulted in Hyderabad by a party whose leader stands up in Parliament – Owaisi — and says that ‘I’m a democrat and I’m a liberal’. None of them.. all of these liberal media hid its neck like ostriches at that time… and nobody spoke a word. How many people stood up for Taslima when 20 hoodlums of the All India MIM, led by an elected MLA, physically attacked her in a press club in Hyderabad? Was it tolerant of secularism, not to take to the streets then? Questions we must ask.
Question number three: Vishwaroopam versus national interest. And if you think you have to give me security as I go out it’s fine. But I’ll say what I want to. Should I speak as I feel? Or should I think that because that gentleman is shooting everything and going to go on YouTube and somebody is going to misunderstand and re-tweet this, put me in controversy, should I pull back? Should I say what I think? Might as well say. No I don’t have any bodyguard. I have no security. You are my security!
Vishwaroopam versus national interest. And somebody, I want somebody on the other side, to debate with me. Anyone.
In January 2013, some faction Islamic organization asked for the Kamal Hassan-starrer Vishwaroopam to be screened to them first. As if we don’t have enough sanskari censor babas in this country. I really will need security today! They said that they were concerned about the depiction of the community. Understood. The government of this very state (Tamil Nadu) ladies and gentlemen, buckled and put the film on hold for 15 days. And later banned the film release momentarily in the State despite it being cleared by the CBFC.
My question is this: Isn’t there an open and clear duplicity not just in factions of pseudo-liberals in India, but also in selectively by the elected representatives of our government to buckle for the sake of appeasing a particular faction? When will this appeasement end? I ask: Why should a State be brought down to its knees and buckle and negotiate with irrelevant factions whose only existence breathes on the resolve to divide our country on various lines? I say don’t compromise with them. Then why is that appeasement continuing?
Question number 4: Yasin Malik and the Hurriyat versus the Army.
On February 13th 1992, Yasin Malik was arrested in Delhi on charges that he received lots of cash from Pakistan’s ISI for promoting terrorist organizations in the Kashmir valley. They recovered 4.5 lakh from his possession. They were charge-sheeted by the CBI. It was alleged that during 1985 to 1992 Malik conspired with four other accused from different terrorist outfits for aiding and abetting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. And yet today there seems to be a lobby portraying Yasin Malik as the messiah of the Kashmiri people. I ask why? Why are these the same people who fight for the freedom of Yasin Malik? The same people who went quiet when the Uri, Baramullah and Pathankot happened later this year. Think of the examples I’m giving you. Jallikattu, Greenpeace, Rushdie, Taslima, Vishwaroopam, national interest Yasin Malik, Hurriyat, Yakub Memon. It will appear to you there’s no link between them, but what I’m saying is, there is a clear link between them.
My journalism is very clear. Plain vanilla journalism has no scheme in my place of things. Journalism is meant to be an inquisition. If we need to believe in a journalism of impact then we should also believe that such impact is possible only if you confront authority. In other words tolerance should not be a tool for you to tolerate the wrongs.
Why was there a prolonged tolerance in this country for corruption? And why did we make Manmohan Singh the paragon, the center piece and the poster boy of clean government in India? He was anything but. Anything but!
My journalism is very clear. Plain vanilla journalism has no scheme in my place of things. Journalism is meant to be an inquisition. If we need to believe in a journalism of impact then we should also believe that such impact is possible only if you confront authority. In other words tolerance should not be a tool for you to tolerate the wrongs.
Question is this. On February 16th 2011, I had a great moment in my career. I went inside 7 Race Course Road for the first time in my life. I had left Delhi as some kind of an evolved cub reporter. The people of India backed me, life was good, and I returned as an editor who got an invitation to 7 Race Course Road. And it was a big event; in fact it was breaking news because Manmohan Singh has decided to speak. It was such fun.
I was very nervous when I was going in, and I said what am I going to do. And I called everybody — my political reporter, my political editor, ki kya karoon? I’m really tensed. They asked, ‘What’s your problem?’ I said ‘there’s one shot at a question you get in a Prime Minister’s live press conference’. They said ‘You should be number 1 or number 2 in the sequence so that you get to ask the question’. Unfortunately I was number 14 out of 15 editors and I don’t know why I had my personal set of bodyguards entering. Six months before that we were part of the biggest campaign against corruption CWG, 2G, Aircel-Maxis, Devas ISRO, Aadarsh, Kargil for Profit. We had been through an amazing 6 months before that. The country was talking about corruption. Every morning, day and night it was corruption. Documents were coming at my door. We were discussing, debating.
I was so disappointed that I was editor number 14, and I sat there waiting for my turn. While the whole country was speaking about corruption, not one editor asked the Prime Minister a single question about corruption before my turn. This was the coziest club I had seen. This was the bar of Delhi Gymkhana that had come right into 7 Race Course. I’m not saying that Manmohan Singh was drinking. But the bottom line is this. My jaw dropped when editor number 12 asked the Prime Minister of India “Sir, what is your message for Sachin Tendulkar?” I’m not making it up. Go back and check. There was a serious question asked, “What is your message for Sachin Tendulkar” because he scored some double century before that.
And when my turn came I asked the Prime Minister a question. I have that question before me. It was the Devas ISRO scam. It was this question the Prime Minister turned around. I asked three questions on the Devas ISRO scam. Harish Khare the press advisor stopped me. The Prime Minister spoke about the famous compulsions of coalition politics and I asked the Prime Minister, “Mr. Prime Minister you have to make compromises even if you say you have to make compromises, there cannot be any compromise with corruption. And that cannot be a compromise even if you’re running a coalition government and sometimes when corruption happens right under your nose Mr. Prime Minister you must speak”. And I had every ethical right to ask that question because for 6 to 8 months before that I have staked my career, my life my profession, my professional responsibility. Day and night we were doggedly pursuing every aspect of corruption. We pursued the CWG, we exposed the organizing committee of the Commonwealth Games of Suresh Kalmadi which was inflating rates. We were exposing Shashi Tharoor in IPL-1. This is much before Lalitgate happened so I felt really passionate about it. But when I asked the Prime Minister a question there was no reply. Much of the media went out and reported how the Prime Minister had snubbed a reporter, rather than asking about the question that I had asked.
I had never felt so lonely and more empowered than I felt that day in February 2011. That experience singes my heart. I want to de-Lutyenise journalism. There is no place in the world which has compromised journalism as much as Lutyens’ Delhi.
And if there is one reason that we are launching Republic TV, it is only this reason. That this country deserves a better media than Delhi Gymkhana media.
Ask yourself, after Chitra Subramaniam… in 1989-1990, right up to 2010 May 31st CWG scam — was there no corruption in India? What were all the newspaper owners and editors doing for those 60 years of our independence? They have no right to teach me journalism anymore. I have broken away. I don’t believe in their rules. I will break their rules. I will reach the people. I will destroy that very decrepit institutions of print journalism that have existed in Delhi and if they want to pass a comment on me- my flavor, my style or the amplitude of my voice, they are welcome to. Because I have seen through them.
My next question is this — which is question number 5. The republic wants to know: Is there any place in this republic for tolerance for letting prejudice pass off as tradition?
Let me explain this to you. I began my career in 1996. I was in my early 20s straight out of college. I was very very excited about journalism. I was given a U-matic camera and I want sent to cover a story in Sabarimala. And I took the camera and I trudged up without slippers, barefoot up Sabarimala, with my cameraperson who told me, “Arnab you want to learn journalism, first learn how to carry a camera.”
I went up. The story was very interesting. There was a district magistrate in Pathanamthitta which is a district in Sabarimala. She wanted to inspect what was happening in Sabarimala because she said if there is a stampede, if there is a problem, what are the administrative arrangements. She had done some great work. But this district magistrate was not allowed to visit the shrine and she had taken it up. I had found this a fascinating story of misogyny and discrimination against women where a senior IAS officer was not being allowed to inspect her own arrangements in Sabarimala shrine. I did a 2-minute story. Nobody noticed. Absolutely nobody noticed. I came back and it was an instruction for me in what was going wrong in journalism.
Now pass it 20 years later. Twenty years later I’m told that a 28-year old woman is lying on the road with another group of women — in busloads they have come – to the Shani Shingnapur shrine in Maharashtra. This woman is lying on the road and is refusing to get up and saying why would a woman not be allowed to enter the Shani Shingnapur shrine in Maharashtra. Why does a shrine become impure?
Similarly in a parallel note a campaign started for letting women enter Sabarimala. Now I know many of you may have different perspectives on it but I asked these questions because these questions need to be asked.
In Haji Ali eleven women were protesting outside the shrine because they were told that women were not allowed inside the Haji Ali shrine in Mumbai. We did a campaign called the Right To Pray campaign. I don’t know if you noticed what happened in the Right To Pray campaign — it started in November 2015. The first day of Sabarimala and the first day of Haji Ali.
286 days after we picked up the Right To Pray in the context to Sabarimala, the Haji Ali Dargah Trust allowed women equal access to the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine as men. It had denied women post 2012. This marked the culmination of a relentless campaign that began one year earlier on the part of Hindu and Muslim women to access the sanctum sanctorum of the shrines of Sabarimala, Shani Shingnapur and Haji Ali.
The guiding light of this campaign was our fundamental Right to Equality under Article 14, Prohibition From Discrimination under Article 15, the Right to Life and Liberty under Article 21, which should take precedence over the right of any religious institution or any religious group to manage its own affairs, especially if these practices violate an individual’s Fundamental Rights.
It was disruption. This is disruption for media and society against discriminatory practices which are passed off as tradition, which lead to a change vis-a-vis Shani Shingnapur and Haji Ali, and I really hope that this continues in the future.
Now in this country of 1.3 billion people, I take pride today to say that our laws are not perfect. Last year I openly came out and started campaigning for a uniform civil code in India.
I am not a right winger. For 70 years we were told that if you ask for a uniform civil code in India, you become a right winger. I find it unacceptable. We are tolerant of a law that allows for a Muslim man to WhatsApp or post his divorce to his wife simply by saying talaq three times. So you put talaq three times on WhatsApp and you can divorce your wife.
We are tolerant of a system — and we consider it to be secular and tolerant — and we are considered to be liberal if we allow a system which does not allow one law for one India.
We are tolerant of a system that opposes what is encoded in the article 44 of the Directive Principles Of India. We are tolerant of there being a legal sanction for imprisonment for 10 years under Section 377. A law that passes a legal judgment depending on what you may be doing within the confines of your public space.
I have openly been against triple talaq. I am openly for a uniform civil code. I ask you: Am I a right winger in doing so? Should I not ask whether laws that divide India should be allowed, or whether laws should unite India? Why should this republic tolerate and hesitate and hiccup to bring one law for all Indians? One law for all Indians irrespective of their religious faiths or what they do as consenting adults within the privacy of their own home. And if the idea of India, in its 70th year, is to broadcast a united India, then what place is there in a united India for triple talaq, and opposition to the uniform civil code, or standing up against the LGBT community have? More importantly these fundamental questions must be asked: Where are the lobbies that protested because “Bharat ko tukde tukde kar denge” slogans were shut down. Where are those lobbies when there is an issue at hand to fight for the unity of India legally? I want to know today why, why the lobbies that proudly proclaim that the expression of freedom of expression is to stand up and say we will destroy India bit by bit, and then claim in public forums that our shout to divide and break up India is our expression of our freedom of expression. Then I want to have an example of the same freedom of expression. I want the same people to stand up and say that you cannot divorce your wife on WhatsApp by saying talaq talaq talaq three times. I want that political correctness to end. Where are the campaigns, where are the petitions and where are the candle-light marches?
Now I’ve been called a lot of things. And I want you to define what I am today. A lot of things have been said. A lot of people have tried to bracket me. Put me in a box. To label me because I don’t think of every alphabet before I speak my words.
I want to ask you today. I stand for a uniform civil code. Does that make me a right winger? I stand up for the National Anthem and will always speak for the support of the Indian army. Does that make me a Sanghi? I will fight till the LGBT community in India seeks justice and the states stops interfering in their personal and private choices. What does that make me?
I am against a legal sanction under the garb of religion for men to WhatsApp divorce to their wives on their whims. Does that make me anti secular? I don’t believe in there being gender discrimination anywhere even if the oldest religious text tells you to do so in whatever religion that is. Does that make me anti-religious? I believe in free markets and I believe in calling out the hypocrisy of using the garb of foreign funding, American funding, to undertake FCRA violations. What does that make me? And I believe also in calling out polarization by Hindu groups and Muslim groups and Christian groups and every other group. Even in thought. What does that make me?
I stand for a uniform civil code. Does that make me a right winger? I stand up for the National Anthem and will always speak for the support of the Indian army. Does that make me a Sanghi? I will fight till the LGBT community in India seeks justice and the states stops interfering in their personal and private choices. What does that make me?
That makes me part of this republic. A republic that my team is going to launch for you. You, who don’t want to be bracketed. You, who simply want to see a right and a wrong and who have the courage to fight only and only and unhesitatingly for the right. And no, believe me, this is not a leaning; this is black and white. And together we will, you and I will drive and pave and create this unimaginable change through Republic. That is my promise today and that is my promise to you.
People have said, “On what basis are you setting up a news channel?” and I’m saying this to you today, “We are setting up a news channel, a movement, on the basis of your love, your hope, your criticism, your affection, your bouquets, your brickbats and your viewership. Thank you very much for calling me here today and letting me speak among you.” (end of speech)
That was Arnab’s speech. It was followed by a Q&A session, a slightly edited version of which appears below, because they shed light on Arnab’s views about important topics and issues. The Q&A session was conducted by legal eagle and columnist Sanjay Pinto Legal Eagle and columnist
Question: How do you stay motivated against so many odds, especially from politicians?
Well, I believe that this country has changed a lot in six or seven years and I see the pace of change. I genuinely have seen hope and I have seen people on the back foot come on the front foot. There are moments in my life when I feel that this moment in television should really be captured as a moment of a changing India.
I remember that when we were doing this debate on triple talaq, Shazia Ilmi a woman leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, came on my program and when she spoke out against it a maulvi told her, in Hindi he said to her, “Aap to Musalman aurat hai hi nahi. Aap apna huliya badal dijiye,” and I saw that the first reference to an independent woman was an assault on her personally. I saw the fire in Shazia when she fought back and I know that day who won and who lost.
What gives me faith is that fact that I sometimes come out of my programme and pick up the phone Sanjay. And when I pick up the phone I see the animated voice of the people. And what gives me hope is that sometimes I’m called in hospital beds by old people who hold my hand and say that “We really wish that this had been happening before in our time, but we want to give you our support. That is what keeps you going. There are a lot of people in this country. Lot of people who are positive.
I am incredibly positive and I will just wrap this up by saying one thing: When I entered college, I was suddenly reminded of my cast because Delhi University was burning with the Mandal Commission agitation. In my second year of college I was suddenly reminded of my religion because Babri Masjid was brought down. I do believe that if there had been this kind of media in 1990 and 1992, then this country would not have burnt in the way that politicians have burnt it in the past!
In my second year of college I was suddenly reminded of my religion because Babri Masjid was brought down. I do believe that if there had been this kind of media in 1990 and 1992, then this country would not have burnt in the way that politicians have burnt it in the past!
We just want to stop the burning and therefore my aspiration is for the media to be a controlling influence in our society, to invoke a sense of fear. There has to be fear of the camera. The camera is not a chronicler. The camera is a watch on behalf of the people. That really keeps me going. As for these political threats, I don’t take them seriously anymore. These politicians also presumably don’t take me seriously.
What about reports that you were offered Y+ security, is it true or just a rumour?
I don’t know who is offering what security. I cannot afford to walk around with 22 security people … You know the problem in our profession is that you do some good, you are misunderstood. I have no security people.
One day I was driving down the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai. I saw a Lamborghini drive at 300 kilometers per hour. I became a socially active citizen and I stopped the Lamborghini, and I went to the Bandra-Worli police station and registered a case. The next day an article came out saying Arnab caught in his Lamborghini speeding on the Sea Link!
I don’t respond to media. I do my work. And I don’t think I need any security.
Do you believe that what happened in Tamil Nadu, in the last few days, truly reflects the will of the people?
Absolutely not. By what dimension does it represent the will of the people? I feel embarrassed in knowing that there are so many people who could have spoken up, and didn’t. I feel proud of the people who came out and spoke out against the drama that was going on. This is not just wrong; this is undemocratic. This is defeating the mandate of the people. The people under no stretch of circumstances want a mandate to be twisted in factions and groups and self-styled cults in the way that it has happened in Tamil Nadu. Which is why I said that I did miss being on air when it happened.
During the exodus of Kashmiri pandits why didn’t we have the awakening much earlier which we have now.
Yeah because the media was frankly just chronicling what was happening at that point of time. Even till now people don’t speak up for the Kashmiri pandits. Because if you speak up for the Kashmiri pandits you have to say that Kashmiri pandits left Kashmir because of the radicalization that happened in the state because of terrorist groups.
Why the media; even the people who lost their own family members at the hands of terrorists don’t speak up! Does Mirwaiz speak up? Does Mirwaiz Umar Farooq answer the question who killed his father? Does Sajjad Lone answer the question who killed his father? When people don’t speak up about the loss that they have suffered in their own families out of a sense of fear, I’m not surprised that the media is quiet. But I assure you that we have not been quiet on the issue of Kashmir. Or on the issue of Pakistan. We have in fact linked the two again and again repeatedly.
What will be the language on your forthcoming channel Republic? Are you going to be bilingual or only English?
You know I believe in English in the way that we Indians speak English. And I’m very very happy to say that there will be one anchor, a very prominent anchor from Tamil Nadu, who will be anchoring on Republic. Because I think the days of this fake British accent are over. And I proudly say that I studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya. My English will be a combination of Jabalpur, Pune, Jodhpur, Shillong, wherever I have gone and a mix of all that. I certainly cannot say that I have some Oxford English in me. I went there for some time, couldn’t do well and came back.
So what is the language? The language is a new language. It is Indian English. It is ‘Hinglish’. It is English with a mix of Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Assamese and whatever it is. As in sensibility, as in culture, as in the voice of India.
And I think that when we look up to people who speak with a French accent then there is no need to deride people who speak in a wonderful smattering of Indian languages. In fact I feel that we should launch even the logo of our channel in multiple languages of this country. Language cannot divide me. I speak English. I don’t speak a word of Tamil but I can’t be divided from any of you at all.
I must point out that ever since Arnab started Times Now, that was the starting point at which the republic of South India got coverage. Otherwise it was all North-centric. You needed a mid-night arrest, you needed a sensational arrest or a tsunami to be on the national map. And that’s an important change Arnab brought about.
If I may add to that Sanjay, I’ve never understood why a marketing manager like Arvind Kejriwal gets so much coverage. And the reason I’m saying this is essentially because — and I can say this to Arvind… where were you when we broke all the scams. Where were you Kiran Bedi, where were you Anna Hazare, where were you Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Shanti Bhushan? Where were you when we were taking the risks on corruption? You simply did a little marketing campaign around it and then owned it. So I wanted to make that point clear.
I feel stunned today when minute details of the Delhi assembly sometimes dominate 90% of English news channels. It’s just unfair to the people of this country.
And there was a time when I was broadcasting out of Bengaluru because someone in the family was not well and I was anchoring out of my small studio in Bengaluru. So every evening I would come out on MG Road and met people and everyone would ask me sir so much is happening in Bengaluru and why is everybody only reporting on Arvind Kejriwal? And truly there was no reply. You can’t make Indian media so Delhi-centric.
Especially during the floods in Chennai, the English media woke up late. Now you can wake up late and say all our reporters are rescue agents. They are not. Fact is that the Chennai floods were largely ignored for the first 24 hours, which is grossly unfair.
Can secularism can be redefined to promote mutual respect among faiths. Right now it’s being used for majority-bashing and minority-appeasement. How do you plan to redefine the image of secularism and if I may add to this just a flipside. If I eat beef, which I don’t by the way, does that make me an anti-national?
Absolutely not! Those who want to define your nationalism by what you eat are doing a disservice to people of this country. I am totally and completely against them. We have to come up with a slightly more complex understanding of what is secularism.
Secularism cannot just be defined in a set way. The things which I mentioned are a pointer in that direction. So I absolutely believe that you know you can’t link not eating beef to nationalism. I mean you have to be insane to say something like that.
In India it’s considered to be youthful to be 50. We have a youth leader who is approaching 50. I met the youth leader before the interview and he asked me how old I was. I said ‘I’m 40 years old’. He said, ‘Oh you’re younger to me!’ I said, ‘Yes, but I have 19 years of work experience’
How does the media stay relevant in the phase of technology and changes triggered by the social media? Newsmakers themselves share news on the media. Now BBC had some time back made it mandatory for their journalists to break their news on their BBC platform as opposed to the social media. In this age of speed news can you actually overtake the speed of the social media?
No, you cannot and should not compete because plain vanilla journalism is over. Everyone on their phones gets enough…
Why are you not on Twitter?
I’m too sensitive. I think I’ll just get affected. I love to keep responding and don’t feel like saying good night and good morning every day. There has to be something more substantial to say. We have a domain name RepublicWorld on which we interact with people.
Personally I’m not so interesting as a person, you know, to keep talking about myself. We have a hashtag called #Republic where will talk about our news.
Anyway I put a megaphone at 9 o’clock every night.
What do you feel is the role of the youth in shaping the future of your country, considering most leaders are above 50.
Well in India it is considered to be youthful to be 50. We have a youth leader who is approaching 50. I don’t remember the date. So I met the youth leader and he asked me how old I was before the interview. So I said that I’m 40 years old. He said oh you’re younger to me. I said yes but I have 19 years of work experience.
Why is most news negative, sensational, why does only negativity make news? What happens to the soft stories? The feel-good human interest stories? Why is there so much of negativity on television? Especially prime time television?
For a simple reason. Negativity has to be challenged. And negativity has to be destroyed. The way to destroy and decimate negativity is not by avoiding it, it is by confronting it. And since you’re speaking of stories let me elucidate this in the audience. You would remember that there was a reporter called Sampat Mohapatra. He still is in NDTV. Great reporter. He once called me and he said that there is a story that has happened in the KBK belt in Orissa — the Kalahandi Balangir Koraput belt, one of the most backward parts of Orissa, and he said that I want to go and report.
And when he reported and he went to the place he found that an entire village was dying because there was mass starvation and there was a drought. And the people were so without food that they took the seeds of mangoes and mixed muddy water in it and made it into a soup. And in that heat the soup became rotten. And these people were so hungry that they were eating rotten mango soup which was poisonous. And they were poisoning themselves to death to fight starvation.
I was so angry that I took a mic and stood outside Gate Number 1 of Parliament till the food minister came and I asked the question: Why is this happening. The food minister told me then, in Hindi he said, “Iss desh main, itne crore logon ke desh main char paanch log mar jate hai aur aap media wale baat ka batangad bana dete hai.” In other words in this country of many crores, a few people die and you make a big hype around it. Sanjay in those days of government TV I managed to smuggle in that sound because I deliberately delayed my edit that night. Because I always knew that if you delay your edit the last story gets put in the news bulletin. It was a tape bulletin. And nobody checks it.
So the government censors won’t see it. Because it comes in the last minute so I pretended like my tapes were lost. I was not being able to manage. And suddenly last minute I told the editor laga do, put this byte in. he put it in, it went to BSNL where it was uplinked from and the DD guys did not see it.
It went on air and the rest is history. The minister had to apologize.
For a 22-23 year old I felt a thrill at that time. Because suddenly I realized that this great profession of ours can deliver impact. Now that answers your question why is there negativity.
Negativity has to be challenged. And negativity has to be destroyed. I don’t do a deal with negativity. I attack it.
To attack negativity, to finish negativity you have to confront it. I don’t believe in the India Matters kind of journalism. Where the last line of every story is a whine. Where you say unless the government does something the situation will get worse. To force accountably there has to be a mix of fear and aggressive journalism which will force accountability in our country. If we just keep complaining and telling people about the good things believe me every government will like it. If you were to tell Suresh Kalmadi ‘what beautiful medals, what beautiful stadiums and what wonderful music’ he would love it. And I’ll conclude with this.
While I was breaking the CWG scam, suddenly on a rival channel, a strap started appearing: “The real story of CWG. Hear it from the man himself. Exposed – the CWG truth!” I wondered how I, with all the documents, had been beaten by another channel.
Suddenly on that channel at 8 o’clock Suresh Kalmadi appears with another male anchor. I don’t like to take names. The male anchor looks intensely at Suresh Kalmadi and says, “Mr. Kalmadi.”
He says ‘Yes’.
‘All these allegations against you… are they true?’
He says ‘No’.
And the breaking news goes: Suresh Kalmadi says all charges false.
Now my question is: That man who was asking the question (to Kalmadi) is not confronting negativity, right? He is doing a deal with negativity. I don’t do a deal with negativity. I attack it.
How do you deal with fake news and real news for an innocent observer?
You have to get multiple sources. There is a site called FakingNews which produces news about me. Which is fake news which everybody considers to be true. So according to that site I have been to jail multiple times!
There is this mad rush and scramble for exclusives. You’ll find that sometimes even when India wins a match which is live on a sports channel there is breaking news: India wins. And the same element to SIMSAT, the simulator satellite, where you interview the same person beforehand and at 9 o’clock he is live on all the channels. And the race for TRPs. I don’t know if you said it or it was attributed to you. ‘I don’t mind this rat race as long as I’m the lead rat…’
I said it. I’ll tell you what I said. I said I’m a very quiet person by nature. I didn’t want to be in the rat race. But now that I’m in the rat race I must be the fastest rat. Now that’s an honest statement.
Most people when they talk of media, the media today… you know the work of journalists is dissected thanks to the social media. How do you feel sensationalism has eroded the credibility of the mainstream media?
Sensationalism by whose definition? I say what a certain channel did by putting an interview of a rapist was sensationalism. And if those people say that if my coverage of Prince, a 6-year old boy who fell into a borewell, who only came out alive because the entire national media camped in Kurukshetra in Haryana… I don’t know if you remember the story of Prince… I say if that is sensationalism, then so be it.
Because I feel that the media lost its job.
In 1996 Appan Menon was our news editor. He told me to go and cover a story about a child who had fallen into a borewell. I was fresh out of Oxford and I refused. I said I wanted to cover BJP, Congress, foreign affairs or something. Appan told me that one day will come when you realize that story of a child falling into a borewell that was meant to be covered by a government is the story of apathy. It’s the first headline. Not a story that you should dismiss.
I did not listen to him. I did not cover that story. I don’t know whether that child lived or died.
But 10 years after when Prince fell into a borewell, it was as if my conscience had come back to teach me a lesson! For four days I had completely lost the ratings battles. Our channel had collapsed. My career was on the line. For four days I covered the story of Prince because I had lost everything in life anyway. As a 30-31-year-old, I was being considered to be a professional failure. And they say in life when you have nothing to lose then you go for the kill. I said at least let me do something for this child.
For four days we camped. For four days we opened the phone lines. We opened the Twitter, email, everything. The whole country would respond if there would be one shot of Prince’s hand moving from left to right! The whole country came together to save a child. And when Prince was brought out alive, I could feel the heartbeat in me!
And when the Army came out and said that Prince is alive, my whole newsroom started crying.
Now if somebody says to me, and all these people in Lutyens’ Delhi say Arnab does sensational journalism, if coverage of this kind is sensational, so be it. If following the A Raja with a mic till you harass the hell out of him is sensationalism, then so be it. Who defines what sensationalism is and what’s not?
What is the secret of your arrogance?
I’m not arrogant. I mean it in a good way. I was taught one thing in life: that if somebody says something behind your back then you ignore the person. But if somebody counters you in front of you then you debate with that person and one of you is right. Now that’s not arrogance; that’s an obsessive debater in me. But I don’t do it all the time; I don’t do this at home!
(With Republic TV) we are putting our journalism to the test. This is the first time a group of journalists has come out and said we can do good journalism independently. In a country where media is sold out to corporate and political interests, this is a change… So I want that support from all of you. For whatever good-bad we’ve done. Because I don’t want this journalism to die. I want this journalism to be institutionalized.
I said in my introductory remark that he’s the most soft-spoken person you can ever come across, one on one. Will Republic will have programs pertaining to the youth and the challenges they face, or only politics?
Yes. Politics will be the place where we’ll seek accountability on behalf of the people. Our voice is youthful and when I say youth I dint mean a demographic youth. I talk about people who believe in the future of this country. Who in a very simple way feel that you can use the media as a catalyst. I am saying come and use me. I am bringing together a group of journalists. I am not overpaying them. I don’t have money. I can’t fight the battle on resources.
But what I do know today is that the world is democratic in the sense that nobody can separate me from you.
If big money separates me from you then I know that good journalism will find a way to reach you. So two months from now — and I’m saying it absolutely sincerely — if you do not get republic when we have launched then call and put pressure on people to put our journalism to you. Watch us. Like us. Hate us. Experience the journalism we put through because we will be Re-public, Republic, the voice of the people.
We are putting our journalism to the test. This is the first time that a group of journalists has come out and has said that we can do good journalism independently. In a country where media is sold out to corporate and political interests, this is a change. And I actually am among you today to openly and quite shamelessly seek your support. So I want that support from all of you. For whatever good-bad we’ve done.
Because I don’t want this journalism to die. I want this journalism to be institutionalized.
And to live beyond and after me.
Transcript: Revati Nair