The arrest of Republic Media Network Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in a two-year-old case of abetment to suicide is disturbing as it reflects the Maharashtra police’s complicity in matters political. Admittedly, the offence for which Goswami has been apprehended was serious and warranted sustained investigation two years back when Anvay Naik left a suicide note accusing Goswami, Feroz Shaikh of icastX/Skimedia and Neetish Sarda of Smartworks of not paying dues of ₹5.40 crore for interior work. The police at the time had filed a closure report in the court. Two years later, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh announced a fresh investigation into the case after Naik’s daughter approached him. Goswami was questioned in the earlier round of investigation, too, and there is little to indicate that he would not have joined the fresh investigations now had he been summoned. The only difference between then and now is the change in the political dispensation in Maharashtra. Given the enthusiasm with which the Congress, a part of the ruling alliance, is officially circulating material relevant to the case points to political motivation in the treatment of the high-profile TV personality.
There can be little doubt that the brand of journalism practised by Goswami is unsavoury to most people and it is also true that the line between propaganda/activism and journalism is becoming blurred these days. But that’s not the issue here. The relevant issue in this context is how frivolously and frequently the state’s power to arrest is being misused, especially in the case of journalists. Goswami’s case has hit the headlines obviously owing to his celebrity status as also the support he’s got from senior members of the Union Cabinet. It would be welcome, however, if the same galaxy of leaders turn their attention to the less publicised but no less outrageous cases of police excesses across the country. Indeed, according to a report compiled by the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG), between March 25 and May 31 this year, at least 55 journalists have faced arrests, registration of FIRs, summons or show-cause notices, physical assault and threats for their reportage across the country.
Goswami’s arrest is condemnable not just for the partisan role of the police but also for the larger threat to, and curtailment of, media freedom. Criminal defamation suits are casually slapped on journalists by politicians in power for perceived insults leading to a chilling effect on the profession. Intimidation, arrest and threat of prosecution of journalists have become so normalised that individual police officers do not register it even as a misdemeanour let alone a crime against the practice of liberal democracy. The need of the hour is long-pending reforms and professionalisation of the police force so that it is saved from being a handmaiden of its political masters.