Death by On-Air Investigation

07 Aug,2020

Image taken from advertising mailer sent out by Republic TV

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

I have started watching Republic TV over the last week or two, after a gap of a few years. The bizarre on-air investigation being carried out by the channel and its owner-editor, who is also its only primetime anchor, Arnab Goswami, under the title ‘Sushant Singh Rajput death probe’ has befuddled me. There have been many cases of irresponsible media coverage of celebrity news over the year, but here, the issue is larger, and the moral standing murkier.

The “investigation” started fine about three weeks ago. Kangana Ranaut chose to give an interview to Goswami, and he’s a fine interviewer on most days. She was shooting from the hip and he played along. But since then, the channel’s coverage of the topic has progressively degenerated. It’s as if the Ranaut interview gave Goswami the idea that there’s a big story in this, and you can run the entire channel on it for at least 4-6 weeks.

The week after the interview featured persistent attacks by Goswami on senior producers and directors of the Hindi film industry. Using the edgy material Ranaut had armed him with, Goswami went about questioning the people she mentioned, with little headway, during that week. There was also an interview with Shatrughan Sinha, where the seasoned actor-cum-politician didn’t say much despite Goswami’s persistence, rightly pointing out that he doesn’t have the details.

It’s over the last two weeks that Goswami’s investigation has become increasingly brazen. He’s sidelined his earlier nepotism narrative and has now taken up a “murder, not suicide” theory that he’s relentlessly pushing, two hours every night for two weeks and counting. Last night, he even said that if people thought this is a media trial, he’s like to inform them that he wanted to be a lawyer but couldn’t, but he may as well appear in a black robe one day on his show. Yes, he said that!

It’s amusing at one level but dangerously immoral at another. If I make a list of people he has “accused” in some form or the other over the last three weeks, it will probably be a number around 15. In the middle of a pandemic, mental health is a serious concern as it is, and if any of those “accused” are affected because of how they are being projected (many other channels are simply trying to ape Goswami’s investigation, making it a wider concern), who will be held responsible?

The other danger is of influencing the opinion of the lawmakers. Can a narrative being fed to the general population day in, day out not influence the police, the government and the judiciary at all? That’s a utopian situation, but we have seen before that reality is different.

If the general audience builds an opinion of their own, however specious it is, and finds an organic way of channeling it to others, it’s within the democratic framework and hence should be accepted, even if one disagrees with the discourse and its general intellectual level. But Goswami is using mainstream media to peddle a narrative that has no legal standing right now. He keeps saying “I am only asking questions”, but he goes on to provide answers to them too, invariably every time he asks one.

There’s also clear political polarisation at play here. How an entertainment industry news item became fodder for politics is beyond my comprehension, but it has happened, and unmistakably so. When political ideology enters other fields of public discourse and begins to influence the opinions there, we certainly have a reason to worry.

Over the next few weeks, Goswami and his clones would have milked this topic dry and moved on. They will then find another story. And with each such on-air inquest, they will keep making the moral compass more and more irrelevant, under one broad defense: That the nation wants to know.

 

Shailesh Kapoor is Founder and CEO, Ormax Media. He writes on MxMIndia on most Fridays. His views here are personal

 

 

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