Mumbai, 16 July-2014, Arghya Roy Chowdhury/DNA: In the days of hashtag journalism and increasingly cut-throat competition for eyeballs, there is a danger of breaking down complicated stories into a one-point synopsis with scant respect for context and nuance. While this is probably inevitable given the times we live in, very often it can lead to dire consequences.
By an overwhelming consensus, no one epitomises this trend of sensational journalism more than ‘The Arnab Goswami’. In “India’s Newshour,” the senior television journalist often takes up a topic for outrage and masquerades as judge, jury and executioner himself, to pronounce a verdict on the issue. As the decibels soar, sanity is often the easiest casualty.
The latest victim of Arnab’s ‘activism’ is senior journalist Ved Prakash Vaidik. Vaidik’s “crime” was that he met most-wanted terrorist Hafiz Saeed apparently without informing Indian authorities, but more importantly, Arnab himself. This lead to a demand for Vaidik’s arrest and prosecution by Arnab. To be fair to Arnab, many politicians also demanded similar action, but when have we expected sanity from our ‘wise men’. But it is probably unprecedented for a journalist to call for the arrest of his colleague just for getting an exclusive interview!
While our esteemed senior television journalist raised the bogey of national security to justify his demand, it is hardly the first time a journalist has met a “most wanted” terrorist. A lot of journalists interviewed Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden. Even in India, the likes of Arundhati Roy have gone deep into the jungles of Bastar to meet Naxals who were deemed as the “most serious threat to India’s internal security” by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Hence the argument that Vaidik has committed blasphemy or some sins of omission or commission falls through.
It is not that Arnab has made a hoopla out of a non-issue for the first time. He has often been accused of raising rhetoric while discussing sensitive topics like Pakistan and China. By bringing in hawks from both sides and raising the ante, in many cases he has been accused of putting unnecessary pressure on the establishment. Shrill jingoism and intense “Foxification” of news may be good television, but it is very often in complete antithesis to the security of the country and the citizens, something that Arnab apparently swears by.
Whether Vaidik is guilty of any transgression can be determined by competent agencies, but by raising the bogey of national security, Arnab has definitely set a bad precedent. The same line can be misused by authorities in the pretext of safeguarding people. Journalists have increasingly been under attack throughout the world for squeezing out voices of dissent. A few weeks ago, Al Jazeera journalists were put behind bars in Egypt for merely reporting news. India still has a robust fourth estate, largely unscathed by external pressure. It is up to the journalist fraternity to not deliver a body blow to this tradition. Vaidik can rest with his laurels of interviewing a “most-wanted terrorist”. The nation may well be interested in some real news.