How Times Group keeps its head while Arnab Goswami loses his

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Is the Times Group mimicking the hydra-headed Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Sangh Parivar? The coverage of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) fracas by the over 150-year-old multimedia news organisation reinforces once again that, just like the RSS and dozens of its affiliates, the Times of India Parivar speaks in different voices.

Of course, Times Group journalists don’t subscribe to the faux liberalism that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar espouse, and writings in the Times Group is genuinely libertarian. However, the media group swings from extreme conservatism to permissive ideas, across print, electronic and digital platforms.

At one end is the pontifical, bombastic, ultra-nationalist and accusatory Times Now anchor Arnab Goswami, and at the other, we have mostly factual and unbiased reportage and sober opinion in print and digital networks, from The Times of India, The Economic Times, ET Now and Indiatimes.com.

Take the most contentious issue on the JNU fracas: that of a purported doctored tape of JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar, who has been arrested on the serious charge of sedition. The alleged tampered video shows Kanhaiya leading the chant for “azadi” (freedom), but as some news channels revealed a few days later, the video was untruthful, for it showed only parts of his speech.

To recap the episode, Times Now had furtively got hold of the tape from a BJP spokesperson present on the show, and Goswami showed this as proof of Kanhaiya’s treason. He then roundly berated all those on his panel who supported the agitating JNU students. He was forced to mumble that the video needed verification only after one of the panelists insisted that it was unfair to air it without confirmation.

On the other hand, The Times of India was biting in its opinion on the release of the tampered tapes and the Delhi Police’s inaction to register a case against those who had committed the crime. It said, “That a video was allegedly doctored in a bid to frame a student… on the basis of what looks like dodgy evidence is chilling enough… Surely they (Delhi Police) can’t be oblivious to the fact that this video could be used to spread hatred and disaffection and possibly instigate violence – all serious offences under the laws of this country”.

Both The Times of India and The Economic Times reported faithfully that “the district magistrate probing the sedition row is learned to have sent the ‘doctored videos’, allegedly misrepresenting JNUSU chief Kanhaiya Kumar as shouting ‘anti-national’ slogans, for forensic tests”.

The Times of India added that “so far, the videos have not spurred police to track down the mischief-makers, though legal experts say cases can be made out for manipulation of evidence and an offence under the IT Act”. It, however, did not say what kind of offence Goswami could be booked under for airing tampered tapes.

But it was Indiatimes.com, yet another member of the Times family, which took on Goswami and lampooned him. Sample this: “Scammers tried to prove Kanhaiya Kumar a terrorist with edited footage, now complete video surfaces and outs their lie”! 

Now, the Sangh Parivar is an ace at playing the double game of speaking in different voices on an issue. So if a rabid Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti uses abusive language against a minority community, the reactions are typical – the BJP either says it’s a slip of tongue or accuses the opposition of politicising the issue, but there is no censure or suspension of the MP.

Or, even as BJP spokespersons wring their hands over the limits of freedom of speech in the Kanhaiya case, a mob led by party MLA OP Sharma is allowed to assault Kanhaiya in a courtroom and attack journalists allegedly for sympathetic coverage.

It pays to keep everyone happy, and the Times Parivar plays it spectacularly. So, even as lead editorials in The Times of India laments the severe sedition law, and goads the public to “Stand up to the bullies”, insisting on “why we must counter brute nationalism…” and The Economic Times scoffs, “(Patriotism) first refuge of scoundrels”, even sneering, to say, “anti-national is an empty jingoistic abuse that has no place in a free society”, it seems they live on a planet different to Times Now.

Goswami has been fulminating over the last week, whipping up jingoism and screaming at his disagreeable panelists with “Are anti-India slogans a freedom of expression?” with burning hashtags like #StopAntiIndiaCampaign. Or this: “Tribute to Afzal Guru at JNU – students crossed all lines” with #FlashpointAfzal as the hashtag. He has been demanding questions like “Is it freedom of speech or sedition to encourage separatism? Or to toe Pakistan’s line on Kashmir?”

But it’s Indiatimes.com once again which nails Goswami with this story headlined “JNU row – NDTV’s Ravish Kumar makes real sense, nails difference between nationalism and democracy”. The website rubbed it in even more with the stinger: “Ravish Kumar talks about media coverage of JNU controversy and he makes more sense than anyone else”. There couldn’t be a worse put down of Goswami by his own Parivar, that too praising a colleague in a rival channel.

Of course, the gong for prime time hysteria hit high when the bellicose and pugnacious General GD Bakshi, a favourite on the Times Now Newshour, finally broke down on air at a show ruing the futility of the martyrdom of Indian soldiers for an ungrateful nation, and as if on cue, agony aunt, Union human resources development (HRD) minister Smriti Irani called up on live television to console the sobbing General.

All this while Goswami taunted his guests for calling Irani’s new diktat for universities to compulsorily fly the national flag as “forced nationalism”, with #TricolourForUnity flashing on the screen. Unmoved, The Economic Times dripped with sarcasm when it said, “Government diktats to universities on flying the national flag is utterly antithetical to the spirit of liberal democracy… the order makes GoI look churlish, brutish and silly. Is that how the Modi government wants to look?”

So, even as the Times Now Newshour rebukes and scolds panelists who have contrarian views, and screams, calling them traitors, leftists, commies and bleeding hearts, the rest of the Times Parivar carries on the dialogue with coherence, veracity and open-mindedness. It pays to keep everyone happy.

(Disclaimer: The India Today Group is a multimedia news organisation too.)

 

 

 

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