The news media is frothing at the mouth, damning Republic TV/Bharat head Arnab Goswami since his alleged WhatsApp chats with then BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta were leaked by Mumbai Police — which has an axe to grind — and shared wildly on social mediums. Drawing a facile conclusion, many journalists are calling it “Radiagate” or “Arnab’s Niira Radia moment”. Even if the conversations in the messaging service medium are considered authentic — it would be a stretch to aver they are total concoctions — these journalists overlook the fact that Arnab was, unlike Barkha Dutt (then NDTV), not fixing government portfolios dictated by a corporate house. Unlike Vir Sanghvi (then Hindustan Times), he was not writing or broadcasting content supplied by a corporate communicator. Unlike Navika Kumar (Times Now), he was not telling an outsider he could manipulate a political party. The list of Radia’s clientele in journalism is long, and yet, in not a single instance did the communication take place in the direction it did between Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta. Here, the loud yet unique television presenter was divulging secrets of the government, which apparently a functionary of the state had supplied him. The direction of information flow (and dictation) was just the opposite in the case of Radia tapes; Radia was telling Prabhu Chawla (then India Today), MK Venu (then Economic Times), those named above and others how to fix union cabinet portfolios and what to write in their respective columns to influence the UPA government led by the INC. Unlike them, Arnab has not yet done a puff job.
This is not to entirely defend Arnab Goswami’s action or a ‘leaky’ government. It is indeed disconcerting if strategically sensitive information was passed on to an outsider. However, first, the WhatsApp chats, even if genuine, fail to qualify as incontrovertible evidence. That the Narendra Modi government would respond to the Pulwama terror attack on a CRPF convoy with “something bigger” than the surgical strike that avenged the Uri attack by Pakistan was expected by all who have followed the prime minister since the days when he was the chief minister of Gujarat. Taking it lying down is not his way of governing, unlike Manmohan Singh who, defence force veterans say, missed a couple of (or more) opportunities to exact revenge on the neighbouring terrorism-sponsoring state. And if the Republic TV/Bharat editor indeed knew about the impending Balakot airstrike, it is commonplace in politics-journalism relations. A government does keep a handful of friendly journalists abreast with some of its future course of actions. During UPA 1, a few scribes had announced beforehand that the George Bush administration would strike a civilian nuclear deal with the Indian government. During UPA II, in April as well as August 2011, a bunch of journalists said Kapil Sibal and (the late) Vilasrao Deshmukh respectively would reach a compromise with Anna Hazare-led India against Corruption before they actually did. There are records that show that, as in the case of the Radia tapes, Arvind Kejriwal was dictating the coverage of the spectacle as well as the projection of his AAP to reporters and even editors, the most infamous episode in which was Punya Prasun Bajpai’s post-shoot “bahut krantikari (revolutionary)” comment exclaiming how the former income tax joint commissioner would like to see his party’s media-created image.
The actual issue here is one of envy and market competition. The Times group has not been able to come to terms with Goswami’s resignation and subsequent establishment of a rival company. The group, infamous in the news industry for reducing its journalists to subordinates of the marketing department, must be regretting why it let Arnab, a puny during his NDTV days, grow bigger than the Times brand. Unlike Zee News‘s Sudhir Chaudhary, Goswami has never been caught in a tape, negotiating a bribe amount with an industrialist. This explains why two media houses that are ideologically on the same side as Republic TV/Bharat are gloating in the wake of the leaked WhatsApp messages. Why those on the left side are celebrating needs no explanation. In fact, time and again, the left has benefited from the right’s lack of unity and they should not be complaining about the coverage of the affair by Times Now and Zee News. But someone had to say that the Republic TV-BARC dialogue was no Radia 2.0. Sirf News, with this editorial, did it.