Ranjona Banerji: Times Now v/s Republic TV: A Question of Ethics

19 May,2017

By Ranjona Banerji


The fight between Times Now and Republic TV is more than just a bloodhound fighting a poodle or, in Arnab Goswami’s more cliched referencing, Goliath versus David. It is about journalistic ethics and indeed the employer-employee covenant. It hurts me to even consider that what Times Now practises – long after Goswami quit – is any form of journalism any more than what Republic TV does but it is what it is.

Republic TV launched on May 6 with two “big stories: The death of SunandaPushkar, wife of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and the corruption of RJD leader Lalu Yadav. While he was with Times Now and since he started Republic TV, the court of Goswami and friends had decided that Congress politician Shashi Tharoor was responsible for his wife’s death.

To recap: Pushkar died in January 2014 in a hotel room in Delhi, just after she had an online fight with Pakistani journalist MehrTarar over an alleged affair between Tharoor and Tarar. BCCL claims the Pushkar and Lalu Yadav tapes are its property since both Goswami (and the reporter who made the tapes) was a BCCL employee at the time the tapes were made. Based on that contention, the company has “registered a police complaint”. A statement from BCCL reads: “…As such the tapes were hidden from BCCL and Times Now management till they were utilised and aired by ArnabGoswami. Suggesting, therefore, that Times Now wilfully did not use these tapes after he left, is a gross misrepresentation. Upon his own admission on Republic TV the tapes were lying with him for the past two years…”

There are a number of problems here that leap out to any journalist. If indeed the tapes are as explosive as Republic TV claimed, why did Goswami and his team sit on them? Goswami’s power at Times Now was practically absolute. Indeed it was a source of shock  and envy to many who worked with BCCL, especially with its newspapers, to see just how much power Goswami wielded. Ever since Samir Jain took over from his father, the message to editors had been clear: your power comes directly through me. In spite of his blatant non-journalism, Goswami got away with murder on screen.

BCCL has some other valid points as well, not just the ego battle between an owner and a powerful editor. It is accepted, indeed usually written into contracts, that any work you do as a journalist for any media house belongs to that media house. In which case, Goswami and his reporter PremaSridevi have broken that clear covenant by not using the Pushkar and Lalu tapes on Times Now but for Republic ITV instead.

When the NiiraRadia tapes became public in 2010-2011, TV anchor BarkhaDutt then with NDTV, made the remarkable claim on television that she did not think that a PR person for telecom companies trying to influence the choice of telecom minister was a good story. There are times when you can forgive an editor for making a bad judgment call. This, by my personal reckoning, was not one of them. Goswami has gone one further than Dutt: he did not use the Pushkar tapes in 2014 but over three years later when he started his own channel.

This is not just breach of contract by Goswami, this is shoddy practice. Goswami is not the first journalist to do this but he is certainly one of the most high profile. Various questions spring to mind – why did he not use the tapes before if they are so “sensational”, was he working for Republic even as he was taking a salary from BCCL, why did he embroil another employee into this? Indeed, these acts go beyond the usual complaints made against him – that he long stopped practising journalism. This strikes at the basis of integrity and from all accounts, Goswami has prided himself on his integrity.

What a shame.

Meanwhile, Republic TV in its first week has trounced every other English news channel in India according to Broadcast Audience Research Council figures.

Go figure, I would say.


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