Since its launch in May, Republic TV has found itself in the crosshairs of both politician and activists. The latest being former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union vice-president Shehla Rashid’s dressing down of the channel’s Snehesh Philip when he tried to record what she was saying outside the Press Club of India on September 6.
While most members of the fraternity as well as others extended support to the Republic TV reporter and called for distinguishing between the role of a journalist and that of the institution, it didn’t take the channel long to turn all that goodwill into ash.
Last night, the father of the murdered seven-year-old Ryan International student Pradhuman Thakur, Varun Thakur was patched live on Times Now from his home in Gurugram for a discussion with Navika Kumar and children’s rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi at 9 pm. What should have been a routine discussion became anything but.
In his short 10-odd-minute conversation, there are five instances where a hand can be seen trying to remove the microphone from Thakur’s lapel (at 0:20, 2:24, 5:22, 5:47 and 6:26).
Despite the absurdity, Thakur valiantly responded to all the questions put to him. But here’s what went down behind the scenes.
A member of Republic TV (and presumably owner of one of the pairs of hands trying to interfere with the broadcast) was attempting to divert Thakur’s attention to their programme.
The following is the conversation between Thakur and a member of Republic TV, identified only as Santoshi:
Republic TV crew member: This is totally unfair
Varun Thakur (VT): Please samajhiye, bohot important aadmi aya hua hai (Please understand, a very important person has come).
Santoshi is constantly heard asking for five minutes and then telling someone over the phone (possibly a member of the Republic TV production crew that patches live telecasts) “Sir, unka koi aadmi aa gaya hai, wo ja rahe hai milne (Sir, he [Thakur] is going to meet someone)”.
Crew: Sir, please mat jaiye, 5 minute ka hai humara. (Sir please, don’t go, ours is just five minutes)
VT: Bohot important aadmi hai, please samajhiye (Please understand, it is a very important person)
Crew: Kaun bohot important? Ye lijiye (Who is this important person? Here, take this)
Santoshi hands her phone to Thakur, who is made to speak to someone.
Tehseen Poonawalla put out an even more disturbing video on Twitter:
Speaking to Newslaundry on condition of anonymity, an employee from Times Now’s guest coordination team told us that initially, it was Thakur’s wife Sushma who was originally invited to join Kumar’s debate at 9 pm. “When the mother backed out at 8:45 pm because of her health, the father (Varun Thakur) agreed to join us,” the employee said. “They were to be with us for the first 15 minutes and then join Republic TV, but when they found out Kailash Satyarthi was to be a part of the debate, Varun’s brother Surjeet said he [Thakur] would like to continue till 9:25 pm.”
Newslaundry also spoke to Thakur, who said that “mai to sabko bolta hu ki 2-5 minute me jitney sawaal puchne hai pooch lijiye (I tell everyone to ask me questions and wrap up within 2-5 minutes)”. He added that he was happy with the media’s coverage, “Media ke support ki wajah se hi toh case itna aagey badha hai (It is because of the media’s support that the case has come so far)”.
One understands the race for ‘exclusive’ or ‘super exclusive’ scoops. But it’s hard to justify such behaviour especially when dealing with a grieving parent.
In the video, Thakur is polite and repeatedly asks the Republic TV employee to excuse him, a request that is ignored and even questioned. While Kumar announced to her viewers that Thakur had to leave, Santoshi, with little regard for decorum, is seen demanding that he stay and speak with her chief Arnab Goswami on his show.
And while much like in the Press Club matter, it seems unfair to hold an employee responsible for the mounting pressure from their workplace on them to carry out an assignment, this is definitely in poor taste.
Newslaundry also tried to get in touch with Santoshi. This piece will be updated if and when she chooses to respond.
The author can be contacted on Twitter @shrutimenon10.