Arnab Goswami: India's most loved and loathed TV anchor
Arnab Goswami, arguably India's most controversial television presenter, made history when he was recently arrested for a suicide case. He denies the charges and has been bailed, but the case only adds to his polarizing personality, reports Yogita Limaye from the BBC.
"It is a crime to be Hindu in a country where 80% of the population is Hindu," said Arnab Goswami in prime-time on his Hindi television station Republic Bharat in April.
"I am asking today if people would be calm if a Muslim clergyman or a Catholic priest had been killed?"
He spoke of an incident in which two Hindu "Godmen" traveling in a car and their driver were lynched by a mob.
Police said the men were mistaken for child kidnappers. The attackers and victims were all Hindus. For nearly a week, the Republic's network ran programs claiming that the victims' Hindu identity was a motive for the crime. This reflected an unsubstantiated theory put forward by some members of India's ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
Mr. Goswami's supporters took to the streets after he was arrested
Critics say this is the real danger of Goswami's brazen, cacophonic, and often partisan reporting.
They believe his network's viewers are receiving false information, divisive and inflammatory views and propaganda for the Hindu nationalist BJP - her six-year tenure was tied to the increasing marginalization of India's 200 million Muslims.
Mr Goswami and Republic TV did not respond to the BBC's request for an interview or answering questions about allegations of fake and inflammatory news or bias towards the BJP.
A controversial style
Mr Goswami is certainly not the first to use this type of reporting, but he has made it louder and more aggressive than ever. The tone is often polarizing and draws on India's religious fault lines.
In April, for example, he falsely accused a Muslim group, Tablighi Jamaat, of violating lockdown orders and called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "lock their leadership up".
In the early days of the pandemic, the group's meeting in Delhi was linked to at least 1,000 Covid cases across the country. The event organizers insisted that the community was held before the government imposed a lockdown, a claim that has since been upheld by many courts in India.
But misleading broadcasts from the republic and other networks sparked anti-Islamic reactions on social media.
"If there is one culprit for what we as a nation are going through in an aggravated manner, whether you like it or not, it is the Tablighi Jamaat," said Goswami in one of his many controversial segments.
In July, the network turned its lens on the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who killed himself, according to police.
But Singh's family registered a police complaint against his girlfriend, actress Rhea Chakraborty, of suicide.
Ms. Chakraborty has denied the charges, but it has sparked an inexorable wave of vitriolic and misogynistic coverage. Republic ran a campaign arresting them for the murder of Singh's suicide and showing hashtags like #ArrestRheaNow on the screen.
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Why is Indian television obsessed with Sushant Singh Rajput's death?
"One comparison people in India like to make is between Republic TV and Fox News, but I think that's a bit wrong," says Manisha Pande, editor-in-chief at Newslaundry, which runs a weekly review of Indian news media. "While Fox News is seen as a partisan and pro-Trump, Republic TV is downright propaganda and often disseminates misinformation on behalf of the current national government."
"What the republic is doing is demonizing people, often people who do not have the power to defend themselves, whether they are activists, young students, members of minority communities or protesters."
The fans and the critics
Republic claims it is India's most watched news network, a claim that has been widely adopted based on the numbers broadcasters have gathered on TV rating platforms. But the numbers are now controversial and Mr Goswami and the Republic are being investigated in order to manipulate them, a claim they have denied.
But it is clear that Mr. Goswami has a large and passionate following.
"The first channel I turn on when I get home at night is Republic. Arnab Goswami is very brave and tries to tell the public the truth," said Giridhar Pasupulety, a financial advisor.
When asked if he was bothered by allegations that the republic was posting false news, he said, "I don't think so. He won't tell us the truth until after an investigation."
Mr. Goswami's nightly shows are very popular
"It's kind of flashy journalism, but it's required to get the message across. It's also kind of show business. Ignore the flashiness and look at the information, which is different from other channels," says Lachman Adnani , an accountant.
Author Shobhaa De believes that this type of influence is dangerous. "We need better control, more checks and balances. We can do without this kind of hectoring and untruth and try to pass ourselves off as 'investigative journalism'," she says.
How it all started
Mr. Goswami was born in the northeastern state of Assam. The son of an army officer, he graduated from Delhi University and received a scholarship for a master's degree from Oxford University.
He began his career with The Telegraph newspaper in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) before moving to NDTV, one of the first private news channels in India. Former colleagues remember him as a balanced moderator who led worthy debates.
After joining Times Now, which started with him as his main face in 2006, his on-screen role evolved into what it is today. He used the pulse of the Indian middle class, which was angry with the government led by the then Congress Party because of security deficiencies during the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and because of corruption scandals. He quickly became a household name in urban India.
Mr. Goswami's image has changed during his years at Times Now
In the republic he founded in 2017, Mr. Goswami became even stricter and more partisan. In 2019, he also launched a Hindi language channel that expanded its popularity beyond cities.
Ms. De previously participated in Mr. Goswami's programs. "I was a panelist on his shows when he was credible as a journalist," she says. "I stopped when I lost respect for him as an impartial professional who did his job. He had gotten out of hand on several fronts and there are serious questions about his integrity these days."
Mr. Goswami was recently arrested for the death of an architect who designed his studio. He and Republic TV station deny the allegations that they owed the architect money.
Many believe he was targeted for his harsh criticism of the Maharashtra government led by Shiv Sena, an alienated former ally of the BJP.
Mr Goswami's political influence became apparent when several BJP ministers came to his support and labeled his arrest as an attack on freedom of the press in India.
It was a notable claim because dozens of journalists have been arrested or imprisoned in BJP-ruled states in recent years. Many were hit on charges such as terrorism and riot. But party leaders and ministers have not spoken out in favor of them.
India now ranks 142 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index - it's down six places in the last five years.
Mr. Goswami cheers after being released from prison on bail
In a 2018 interview with Gulf News, Mr. Goswami was asked about his bias towards the BJP. "This is an unconfirmed complaint. In fact, we are most robust in our criticism of the BJP on issues where it has to be criticized," he said.
Last week, Mr. Goswami was released after seven days in detention. His return to his newsroom was broadcast live on his network, with the hashtag #Arnabisback prominently displayed.
His team greeted him with applause and cheers. "They are persecuting us for our journalism," Goswami said in a dramatic speech. "I will determine the limits of our journalism."
"What the republic is doing cannot be called journalism," says M. Pande. "It's just good reality TV. But it is successful in coloring people's opinions. And that is worrying in a democracy."
Read more stories from Yogita Limaye
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