Post Fact Ergo…

Arnab Goswami is again in the news. This time, for making up an entirely fictitious account of his encounter with a lynch mob during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“Making up an entirely fictitious account”, which is how I described the act in the previous para, is of a piece with “alternate facts”, the coinage popularised by Kelyanne Conway – epistemological obfuscation. What Goswami did, shorn of such window dressing, is: he lied.

Rajdeep Sardesai and other senior journalists who were Goswami’s colleagues at NDTV at the time were right to call out the lie. One of the issues with the press is that it takes unto itself the power, and the responsibility, to ‘speak truth to power’, but when it comes to wrongdoing by peers, falls strangely silent.

In the wake of all this, calls for Goswami to resign have mounted in volume – and will be duly ignored by the Republic’s editor-in-chief. There is a reason he eschews social media and other avenues that involve actually interacting with his audience – if he is not there, he does not have to deal with criticism or respond to questions.

What the Republic management does with the issue is, again, likely to be: nothing. In course of the channel’s brief tenure, Goswami has shown a very casual relationship with the truth. There was, for instance, the entirely fake story about the Jama Masjid’s electricity bills that the channel promoted with relish until it was proved to be false, then took it down with no explanation, no word of apology. Or the time a faked report of an Arundhati Roy statement had Goswami frothing at the mouth – using the occasion to tee off on all his favorite targets:

“They called the Indian Army names, they all came together, especially the Lutyens media, and the fake pseudo-liberal crowd, they came together to abuse our army, and then in rhythm and almost in a pre-planned way, one-book whiner wonders like Arundhati Roy came crawling out of the woodwork to once again attack the Indian Army.”

Again, when the Roy ‘interview’ was proven to be fake, Goswami had no apology to offer, no acknowledgment. He moved on to his next ‘issue’ – and his paymasters seem to be absolutely ok with it. So why should his ‘Gujarat’ fantasy – which, by the way, was a speech made in Assam before the channel was launched, therefore in his personal capacity – be any different?

The media goes into periodic breast-beating about its declining credibility. The one thing it consistently refuses to acknowledge, however, is that it owns the problem – and that the solution, namely zero tolerance, is also in its own hands.

There is now, I find, a Twitter hashtag dedicated to this issue: #ArnabDidIt

This, I find in bad taste – at a time when media credibility is a constant talking point, Goswami’s fabrications and propagation of fake news could have been a cue for collective soul-searching, debate and – one can always hope – action. To trivialise the issue through a hashtag is to shift the focus, to distract. ‘Gotcha’ is nice – if you are a schoolkid.


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The author, Prem Panicker, is a senior journalist and co-founder of Rediff.com. This post was first published on his personal site.

Tweet at Prem: @prempanicker


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