An Open Letter to Jignesh Mevani and Arnab Goswami: Sincerely, Madhu Trehan

Journalism is bigger than a politician’s ego or a showman’s self-serving agenda.

ByMadhu Trehan
An Open Letter to Jignesh Mevani and Arnab Goswami: Sincerely, Madhu Trehan
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It is really awful to be treated the same way you treat everybody else. It is outrageous.

So, Jignesh Mevani refused to carry on with what appeared to be a press meet in Chennai unless Republic TV’s microphone was removed. In solidarity, a few of the journalists present told him he could not demand that and Mevani decided to walk off with his condition not met.

The questions to be answered are: was Jignesh correct in demanding that the reporter from Republic TV leave and should the rest of the media support Republic TV in the face of Arnab Goswami’s overwhelming contempt and noisy rants against what he calls the “Lutyens” media?

Two letters: one to Jignesh Mevani and one to Arnab Goswami.

Dear Mr Mevani,

If you can’t take the heat, get out of the boiling pot and go back to the kitchen. It is the job of the media to observe, analyse and critique politicians’ statements, behaviour, policies, rallies and yes, even clothes (refer to Arvind Kejriwal’s ubiquitous muffler and Narendra Modi’s name embroidered suit). The media’s job is not that of an admiring fan. Your mistakes will be amplified. Your speeches could be mocked. Your forlorn rallies will be highlighted. You will even be misquoted and misrepresented. Yet, they will also show massive turnouts if it happens, as they did with Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal.

You are positioning yourself as a new entrant in the old world of politics. The fact that you can even do so is because India is a democracy. Yes, it is a chaotic, insane, problematic, always a work-in-progress democracy, but a perennial democracy nevertheless, hopefully immarcescible. The fact that the media is showing an interest in you and waiting for you to report your statements is by itself a statement of our democratic principles and the role media plays in it. The media does not always only highlight the powerful and successful. Often it does highlight those who challenge the powerful and successful. You are one such candidate. The worst the media could do to you is to ignore you completely. No coverage of your statements, speeches, rallies, would be the end of your political career even before it begins. Word of mouth or messages sent with pigeons will hardly gain you any supporters or voters. You need the media.

Yes, in today’s media, there are many who do not follow the basic tenets of journalism. They can be rude, unreasonable and callously vicious. When untruths are floated about you, ignoring them could only damage you. They become established truths unless you refute them. For that, you need to engage with whom you perceive as the enemy. Regardless of your view of any news channel, it is against the tenets of democratic principles for you to demand the exclusion of a journalist. In fact, it was a gift handed to you to speak out against their coverage that offended you. You missed that opportunity and handed them the gift of victimhood.

Lyndon B. Johnson, (President of US from 1963 to 1969) was not popular and he lamented:

“Our most tragic error may have been our inability to establish a rapport and a confidence with the press and television with the communication media. I don’t think the press has understood me.”

Mr Mevani, it is up to your ability to communicate to make sure the press understands you. In conclusion, do not ever single out a news organisation and ask them to leave.

That is the strategic bit. Even conceptually, with no strategic advantage, it would be wrong of you to make the demand you did in a democratic country.

To understand why, you might want to continue reading the letter to your bête noir below.

Sincerely,

Madhu Trehan

Dear Arnab,

I was one of your earliest supporters when you created a new genre of television in Times Now. I defended you against critics and lauded the fact that you stepped up to change the dull journalistic landscape. I still believe that your interviews in Frankly Speaking showed a good journalist at work. You captured those who had refused interviews to everybody else and you kept a strong spine with your tough questions.

This is personal. Journalism is something I feel strongly about and it has been my life. I do have an uncontrollable, intrinsic empathy for all journalists, even though there are moments when I cringe in shame for them or feel dismay at slanted, agenda-driven stories. But, the empathy remains. Much like in a family, when your husband, wife or child may do something terribly wrong.

I watched you when you were with NDTV and I believed you were the best of the lot. I watched you on Times Now when you did not leave your desk for hours, maybe the whole day and night, when you covered the Mumbai siege in 2008. I was riveted by your professionalism. It started unravelling when I watched in dismay as you, in my assessment of the case, went completely off the pursuit of truth when you launched attacks on Arushi Talwar’s parents, judging them to be guilty of their daughter’s murder obviously from information handed out to you by the second, newly appointed self-serving team of the CBI. You were dead wrong. But, undoubtedly, you influenced the first order that landed them in jail for four long, terrible years.

You launched Republic TV on May 6, 2017 with a recycled old story on Lalu Prasad Yadav. You followed with another recycled old story on Sunanda Tharoor. And then followed by another recycled old story on Bofors. Even the most unintelligent can figure out your choice of stories exposes Republic TV’s agenda.

Now, I can’t bear to watch you.

Your latest skirmish with Jignesh Mevani leads me to believe you have fallen off the rails from the basic tenets of journalism. In your show on January 5, 2018, #CongSponsorsJignesh, based on your camera team catching Alankar Sawai, aide of Rahul Gandhi, at Mevani’s press conference, you conclude that the Congress party is sponsoring Mevani. You said, “Administrative arrangements for the death toll politics advocate are being done by Rahul Gandhi – sent his man to organise things for him. What does this prove? This proves that the violence in Mumbai and Maharashtra was being indirectly sponsored by Rahul Gandhi. Jignesh is his pawn and Congress party is the real sponsor of the violence which we suspected”. You further added, “Rahul Gandhi’s man runs like he’s seen a ghost. Finally you see Rahul Gandhi’s man in absolute panic jumping into an auto rickshaw and running straight to Tughlak Road to report to his boss that he has been caught. I personally am delighted. Like you (hain?), I would like to see these people who do death toll politics be exposed. Jignesh is a gun on hire. He’s available to the highest bidder which at this time seems to be the Congress party. Houses have been burnt. Hundreds of buses destroyed. More than a thousand crores of people and property demolished. A 16-year old boy has been killed. And this coward Jignesh held the mic and assaulted Aditya Raj Kaul, that too at the Press Club of India”.

Altnews.in investigated this and found in fact Raza Haider, a freelance journalist and a member of the Press Club, had booked the Press Club.

You did not have a dot of proof that the Congress party was involved in the violence in Maharashtra. It was conjecture at best. You also mentioned that Sawai jumped into an auto rickshaw to go to Tughlak Road to report to Rahul Gandhi. How could you possibly know where he was going? So your story, though juicy, sensational and compelling was not based on verified facts. And now that has become a standard format in your shows which most watch for its entertainment value and not news.

You have now become a verbal wrestling channel instead of a news channel and present debates that are as staged as wrestling matches are.

You then rant about the “Lutyens” media.

“My first question to my fellow colleagues in the Lutyens media, I wouldn’t like to call them colleagues: Did you not see Rahul Gandhi’s man at the press conference or did you deliberately look the other way or you didn’t want to ask either Rahul Gandhi or Jignesh Mevani questions? It’s your choice Lutyens media”. What you refer to as “Lutyens”, is off base and not factual. Today, the Lutyens area in the capital houses the powerful stalwarts of the BJP, including pro-BJP journalists. They are now the Lutyens crowd.

Your debate on January 9, #JigneshFlopShow, left me gobsmacked.

You go on a name-calling rant that could not be called journalism by any stretch. “Destructive anarchists, political mercenaries, Jignesh Mevani Umar Khalid gang, anti-India, anti-national interest, cheap, vulgar, perverse, low life goons”. And then you carry on against the “Lutyens” media: “Lutyens media is totally silent about this vulgar stunt by the Jignesh cabal. When a fellow reporter is subject to an attack like this. I pity them”.

As a matter of fact, the media has shown solidarity and support for your reporter who was targeted by Mevani in Chennai.

Shivani Gupta, your news editor is not the first journalist who has been attacked while reporting. Most of us in the field have and even been physically manhandled. Once (‘upon a time’ in deference to my old age) a woman bit a cameraman’s (Bharat Raj, now with Rajya Sabha TV) hand to stop him from shooting. Correspondent Nutan Manmohan was held captive in the middle of an interview by a Hawala accused in a basement in his office until I went to rescue her. In a packed press conference held by the then foreign secretary Aftab Seth for Yasser Aarafat (Chairman of PLO), I got up and asked Arafat to return our tape his security had confiscated from our reporter Manoj Raghuvanshi after an interview in Rashtrapati Bhavan. Aftab Seth was shocked and tried to shut me down, but it is not our job to please the government in power, at that time Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress. None of those incidents were even mentioned in the story even though we had it on camera. Kick-ass journalism by very young, first job journalists when there was no television news except Doordarshan. No role models to follow. We invented as we went along, with ethics and integrity, fearlessly speaking truth to power. We are, with utter determination, not the story. I cannot recall a single instance where it was reduced to the news channel making itself the star of the story by competing in popularity with a political party. You said: “Who represents India better? The Republic team or Jignesh’s perverse goons. We will take them on. We will ask the people of India to choose. Republic on the one side and these cheap, vulgar anti-India goons on the other”. Who are you competing with to represent India and why? Since when do journalists seek to represent India and not the pursuit of truth with fact-based stories?

And then you reduce yourself with the most arrogant, ageist remark addressed to grey-haired Rajiv Desai: “You may not have seen this kind of reporting in your time but this is our time. This is the reporting that will happen. If the truth is bitter swallow it. Swallow it. Swallow it a third time”. You go on to say: “We are the newest, youngest media of India. Who represents India better?”

Arnab, youth is not an achievement. We’ve all been there. You are, as we all are, losing your youth and ageing with every second that goes by. And, this might hurt: you too will one day be grey haired, sitting on a panel, and some young punk will dismiss your views as being outdated because of your age, not because of the content.

Your orchestrated plan to create a cause of victimisation is self-serving and reeks of self-aggrandisement, with no respect for journalism or India’s democratic principles. If you were in my shoes, you would call it “anti-Indian” and “anti-national” and suggest immigration to Pakistan. But, I do not label people just because I disagree.

Your previous employer destroyed and damaged journalism’s credibility by creating an official, established revenue model of Paid News. You are now nailing the coffin by these antics. You send your reporters to aggressively and viciously chase people, screaming their questions, making the reporter’s chase the story not the answers. You know very well that no reporter can get real answers in such a false, staged-for-the-camera approach. Republic’s culture (or rather lack of it) and lowest moment was exposed when your guest coordinator removed the Times Now mic off a grieving father in the middle of an ongoing live interview on camera. When colleagues from another channel are treated like this, it is embarrassing to think that you now expect the rest of the media to now support your cause.

Please take a moment to reflect on what journalistic culture you are creating and what you are destroying. Why have journalistic stories been replaced by shouting matches? Where are the stories? Does anyone really get any information about the story, other than watch two opposing sides fight for airtime to scream their highly predictable views, while you play judge and jury? It cannot be ignored that none of your reporters have ever chased a BJP politician or anyone involved in a BJP controversy. Your stories and programmes have carefully avoided all the prickly issues related to the BJP. Your pretence of going against the government in soft stories such as the national anthem really does not fool anyone.

Also something you may not realise is the responsibility that comes with leadership. Maybe when the grey hair kicks in you will get it. You have young impressionable, aspiring news professionals working for you. For many it will be their first job and thus they are all the more susceptible. While you are safe in the studio putting up a farcical performance, you send these foot soldiers out in harm’s way. Why do you not go out on the streets to report and face the contempt and derision your obedient, guileless reporters face? They are mocked and ridiculed not because they are bad professionals, but because they carry your agenda and load. Leadership should nurture ethics not turn an entire generation of apprentices into hysterical, pseudo journalists while being used as a shield for yourself. They seem utterly bewildered and indignant that they are being attacked for what you have led them to believe is their job. It is not their job to harass, verbally molest and turn that into a story. Since when is that journalism?

Why is it that you never take a single question about your work? Why are they left to face the music? Do you have the courage to take a single question from your peers? That requires guts and leadership. Shouting in your own safe studio does not.

I personally and newslaundry.com in solidarity for the tenets of journalism, will support any news organisation that has been asked to leave by a politician or anyone else. But please be clear, we support the concept of every journalist being allowed access to report. We do not support your cause.

Warm regards,

Madhu Trehan

PS. Homework for you, Arnab: Please watch Raj Kamal Jha’s speeches at the Ramnath Goenka Awards events. Last year, attended by Prime Minister Modi and this year by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. Jha speaks truth to power. That is a journalist’s job. You speak to the lowest common denominator of us all.

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