Ranjona Banerji: Watch out wrong-doers! Times Now is watching

24 Aug,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

All hail Times Now which has single-handedly managed to get Suresh Kalmadi’s name included in the latest CBI chargesheet as part of the investigation into the Commonwealth Games. The CBI had earlier left Kalmadi’s name out, only to find that the wrath of the nation-saver fell upon it. How it had the courage to leave Kalmadi’s name out in the first place beats me. It should have known that Times Now was watching. In fact, let this be a lesson to all wrong-doers across India: Times Now is watching.The rest of the media must now follow suit.

 

Yet I distinguished some slight self-mocking in Arnab Goswami on Thursday night as in the middle of a debate on free speech versus hate speech he said with a wry smile that he had been accused of chairing kangaroo courts. I can see that he will fight them on the beaches and never surrender.

 

Suhel Seth – for all that he can be annoying and is on my list of TV guests I don’t want to see again – was quite funny too. As Goswami and guests kept talking about the “Laxman rekha” between hate speech and free speech, at the end of the show, Seth asked Goswami if he had joined the BJP. Goswami was non-plussed. Seth answered words to the effect of “you keep saying Laxman rekha. Why don’t you say Moses’s foot?” Rahul Ishwar of the Sabarimala Trust looked really upset at this but luckily the programme was over before we could break into a huge fight.

 

As far as free speech is concerned, by the end of the show, everyone agreed free speech is good, hate speech is bad and something needs to be done. I am not sure myself about using the term ‘Laxman rekha’ in this situation because one could see the line drawn by Laxman to protect Sita as circumscribing women and she breached it anyway.

 

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We seem to be absolutely unclear about how to tackle hate speech in this country. While we have defamation, slander and libel laws, we are quite lax about them in general and we have not worked out how to transfer them to cyberspace. Clamping down arbitrarily on freedom of speech and expression is our normal way of dealing with content which spreads hatred.

 

Therefore, the blocking of the twitter handles of journalists Kanchan Gupta, formerly of Pioneer and Shiv Aroor of Headlines Today received widespread condemnation, as did the blocking of the website of Pakistani journalist Faraaz Ahmed. The irony is that it is Ahmed who had researched, investigated and concluded that the images of Muslims being attacked, tortured in the video clips doing the rounds were doctored. Blocking him therefore made no sense.

 

I do not know Aroor but have had some twitter conversation with Gupta and we are both columnists for Mid-Day. He is undoubtedly right-wing but that is hardly against the law. Nor can being right-wing per se be construed as being given to hate speech. If there are specific instances that Gupta and Aroor put up content that sparked communal violence they can be booked for that. But by just blocking them, the government has been both high-handed and arbitrary and has to be condemned.

 

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The apparent squabble between Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni and former India batsmen VVS Laxman over a phone call, a retirement and a party seems to have divided the Indian cricket media between the two. However, it seems unlikely that this will become as big an intra-media battle as the Bhupathi-Paes tiff. Still, it’s quite amusing to watch it play out. My gut is that even though Laxman has been called a  gentlemen” and whatnot, Dhoni will win this one. He has more support and Laxman has retired

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are her own.

 

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