Air India supports Arnab Goswami’s primetime show. Should taxpayers’ money be used to power propaganda?
On January 30, as news came of a gunman firing on protesters near Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, Republic TV launched a misinformation campaign, effectively lying about the identity of the shooter. The gunman has since been identified as a 17-year-old from Jewar in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh.
Republic TV got a lot of online flak for its coverage of the shooting. And Jamia Millia’s Mass Communication Research Centre decided to ban Arnab Goswami's channel from its placement process this year.
While the blame for this misinformation falls squarely on Republic TV and its motley crew, let’s not forget the sponsors that powered its coverage with their money.
The channel’s afternoon segment, which first incorrectly identified the shooter as a Jamia protester, was powered by Honda and Aquaguard. We also spotted a number of brands including Jio, Raymond, and Zoho.
Let’s break it down.
Republic's coverage on January 30
At around 2 pm on January 30, Aishwarya Kapoor, Republic TV’s political editor, essentially blamed the citizenship law protests for the shooting. "In the name of CAA,” Kapoor declared, “guns are being brandished in broad daylight on the streets of the national capital. Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal have supported it."
Meanwhile, text like “Jamia protester uses gun” and “Protester turns violent” covered the screen, with arrows handily pointing to a visual of the shooter brandishing his weapon.
Even as it became clear that the gunman was not a protester, Republic TV did not apologise for its error. Though it claimed to have “clarified” the “mistake” on air, the programming that Newslaundry watched did not feature an immediate apology or clarification. This was also confirmed by a report in the Quint.
Interestingly, during the promo that played just before Goswami’s 9 pm segment that day, the misinformation about the shooter being a rogue protester was repeated again.
Goswami chose to spin the incident to suggest that the protesters had it coming. “I’m beginning the programme tonight by repeating what I’ve been saying for 45 days now,” he told viewers. “Stop the provocation. Don’t keep provoking India…Three days back, a Muslim young man entered the Jamia Shaheen area and started waving a gun. And we had said at that point of time: please, for god’s sake, stop the provocation.”
Goswami was referring to a January 28 incident at Shaheen Bagh when one Mohammad Luqmaan brandished a gun and said, “Khali kardo ye jagah warna yahan laashein bich jayengi.” Vacate the spot, or it will be littered with dead bodies. Luqmaan is not a young man, incidentally, he’s about 50.
This is how Goswami blamed the citizenship law protests for the shooting at Jamia: “And today, a Hindu minor entered there with a pistol and he started shooting…And we all know we are sitting right here on a powderkeg situation. We all know that the provocation is not ending. More and more incendiary language is being used…Delhi has been brought to a standstill.”
Here’s the clincher: the anchor brought up “pseudo-libs” who have been “encouraging” the Shaheen Bagh protesters and who now “are not taking responsibility”. “One wonders why Arvind Kejriwal refuses to take a position on the endless violent words and actions that have been used in Jamia and Shaheen Bagh…I do hope Shaheen Bagh is vacated. Because the longer it continues…the threat of violence is looming all over us.”
By “endless violent words”, Goswami presumably meant a speech by Sharjeel Imam, a protester charged with sedition for allegedly asking that the Northeast be blockaded from the rest of India. His speech wasn’t made at Shaheen Bagh but at Aligarh Muslim University. Incidentally, a BJP legislator had said Imam should be “shot dead publicly” for what he said. Just days before the shooting at Jamia, BJP state minister Anurag Thakur asked for “traitors” to be “shot”.
These statements presumably do not count being provocative. Instead, Goswami went on: “What happened today should be a wake-up call for all those who silently allowed over 40 days of provocation in Shaheen Bagh.”
But what of Republic TV’s misinformation that the shooter was a protester? This is what Goswami said: “Many people made the mistake — and we also made the mistake — thinking that it was a protester who had [pulled] out a gun. We didn’t know it was someone from outside. But the moment his name came out, his identity came out, the facts came out — we corrected ourselves…So it was a mistake I made, we are sorry for it. I’m saying it on primetime television. There’s no malintent from our side.”
Sometime into the second debate — #GodsePolarisation — Goswami offered another explanation for his channel’s misinformation campaign.
“You people want to give a wrong spin to everything,” he shouted, asking that his volume be turned up so he could be heard over his squabbling panellists. “Today afternoon, when the news came in, we were all horrified…The initial report, somebody said he’s one of the protesters. For a few minutes, two-three minutes, a wrong word went on our channel, saying ‘protester’. We corrected it within minutes and said no, he’s not a protester, his name is Gopal. He’s an intruder, not a protester.”
The “wrong word” lasted more than a few minutes, for one thing. Republic TV ran with this story for quite some time before quietly stopping. It was more than that though: the channel flashed phrases such as “protester turns violent” and “Jamia protester uses gun” on the screen. Kapoor doubled down in his tirade from the studio, ably backed by the Republic TV reporter.
“We corrected it,” Goswami said. “I said it was a mistake…But the problem is, in this country, everyone wants to Hindu-Muslim, Muslim-Hindu…We’ve lost our sense of balance today.”
Goswami then said three days earlier when Luqmaan was caught with a gun at Shaheen Bagh, “did I say a Muslim was caught? No! So why should I say today that a Hindu was caught? I say madman, psychopath, rioteer…But don’t give a Hindu-Muslim identity to everything.”
It’s worth pointing out that regardless of how Republic TV covered Luqmaan on January 28, Goswami’s introduction to his show on January 30 specifically called Luqmaan a “Muslim young man”.
The claim about Republic TV apologising for its “mistake” is another untruth, as this thread explains.
Moreover, as we have established above, the misinformation about the gunman being a protester was repeated again.
Republic TV’s history of misinformation
“Misinformation” is a polite euphemism for running unverified “news”. Republic TV is no stranger to it.
Here’s a sample. Please note: this list isn’t exhaustive.
In May 2017, Republic TV claimed writer-activist Arundhati Roy had “abused” the Indian Army and launched into an “anti-Army” tirade”. She hadn’t.
In August 2017, Republic TV, based on social media posts alone, claimed that electricity had been cut in Jama Masjid because of non-payment of bills worth Rs 4 crore, even as Imam Bukhari “has money to buy luxurious cars”. BSES Delhi confirmed to Alt News that this was untrue.
In September 2017, the TV channel misquoted the Karnataka home minister as saying he would “probe Maoist link” to Gauri Lankesh’s murder. The state home minister had said no such thing.
In October 2017, Republic TV ran a story on Imran Khan being accused of sexual assault. He wasn’t.
In July 2018, Republic TV’s Shivani Gupta ran an “exposé” on how Sudha Bhardwaj was an “Urban Naxal” who was “plotting” against India with her fellow “comrades”. Based on rumours and unverified letters “allegedly written on the Communist Party India Maoist letterhead”, Republic TV announced Bhardwaj and others were “working in conflation with the ISI of Pakistan”.
In November 2018, Republic TV claimed the Congress’s manifesto for the Telangana Assembly election promised schemes “only for Muslims”. #MuslimOnlyCongress, the channel declared, detailing eight ways in which the Congress party’s manifesto allegedly practised “appeasement politics”. Sadly for the channel, it was a classic case of cherry-picking: their claims were incorrect.
On the personal front, Goswami said his car had been attacked in Gujarat while he was covering the 2002 riots. As Alt News pointed out, Goswami wasn’t even in Gujarat at the time and a photo that a Republic TV reporter had tweeted as “proof” was actually taken at a later date. Worse still, that particular incident had actually involved Rajdeep Sardesai, who even wrote about it in his book.
And let’s not forget: last year, Republic TV was directed to issue an on-air apology for a debate it had run in March 2019 that flouted the guidelines of the News Broadcasting Standards Authority. Goswami had essentially bullied a Muslim panelist to prove his patriotism by chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. No apology was aired.
The companies that 'powered' Republic
Now, let’s circle back to the companies that “powered” Republic TV’s primetime segment that not only refused to accept the channel’s erroneous report, but also blamed the victims of the shooting.
In 2017, the American rightwing website Breitbart lost “nearly 2,600” advertisers. Its former executive chairman, Steve Bannon — who found himself in, and then out, of Donald Trump’s White House — later admitted the website’s ad revenue had fallen 90 percent thanks to Sleeping Giants, a campaign which, among other things, tries to persuade companies to not advertise with media outlets it deems sexist, racist or bigoted.
Sleeping Giants was started by Matt Rivitz to alert advertisers whose ads appeared on Breitbart. According to this article, the campaign reportedly got 4,000 companies to stop advertising on the website.
Today, several media watchdogs are stepping up their game when it comes to advertisers powering this sort of news. Media organisations themselves are evolving; last week, the Guardian announced it would no longer accept advertising from fossil fuel companies.
India may not have a version of Sleeping Giants yet, but we got in touch with the companies that “powered”, in Republic TV’s words, the channel’s broadcast spreading vitriol. Holding these companies to account is important not just because of the channel’s so-called error in reporting on the Jamia shooter, but for its relentless targeting of Shaheen Bagh protesters, who mainly comprise women and children. Goswami has demonised them as “anti-India” and “anti-Hindu”, making them vulnerable to hate crimes.
We reached out to some of the brands that we spotted on Republic TV’s erroneous reportage and primetime spin on January 30. We asked them if such a presentation represented the values their brands stand for.
Saahil Anant, who handles public relations for MG Motor India, said his company relies on a third-party agency called Initiative to devise its advertising strategy. The agency bases its decisions on TAM reports which measure television audiences, he said, but the brand picks the channel and allots a certain number of hours to it.
They don’t, however, monitor the specific programme their advertisement airs on. “Really, the morals and ethics of it is outsourced to this agency,” he said. He directed Newslaundry to speak to a senior representative of the company who did not respond to our queries.
We also called Prashant Tandon, founder of 1mg, who asked us to call back later and, in the meantime, send an email with our questions. The story will be updated when we receive a response.
We sent an email and text messages to Dhananjay Kumar, spokesperson for Air India. He hasn’t responded yet. The case of Air India is important because it’s effectively taxpayers’ money that has been used to promote Republic TV’s content.
We also emailed Kumar Saurabh, chief business officer of Manyavar, who has not responded to our queries. Our emails to Honda, Eureka Forbes, and Star Health Insurance have not yielded responses so far either.
Newslaundry sent Goswami a detailed questionnaire but received no response.
With reporting inputs from Sakshi Rakshale.