Arnab Goswami and India’s Press Problem
Outrage has been pouring in after the journalist’s arrest. But what about Vinod Dua? Or Mushtaq Ganaie? India’s press problem extends beyond the treatment of Arnab Goswami.
On November 4, 2020, Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami was detained by police in Mumbai on charges of abetting the suicide of Anvay Naik, an architect and interior designer, who listed Goswami as a reason for his death in a suicide note. India’s ruling party, the BJP, condemned the arrest as “politically motivated” due to Republic TV’s strong criticism of Shiv Sena, the ruling party in Maharashtra (and opposition to the BJP).
Goswami’s case may seem tenuous at best, which is why many in the media (including those who decried Goswami’s witch-hunt journalism) are calling for his release. The BJP has already deemed the arrest to be a “fascist” move. And while people are rarely detained solely because of their name being mentioned in a suicide note, the BJP’s objections have been deemed as hypocritical by the opposing Congress Party.
A case cited by the BJP’s critics is the case of Vinod Dua, who the BJP are currently prosecuting as part of a sedition case. Dua made several criticisms of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s COVID-19 response, which resulted in him being accused of violating sections 153 (provocation with intent to cause a riot) and 188 (attempting to disobey a public order) of the Indian Penal Code.
Dua’s case is one of many. Earlier this year, during the abrogation of Article 370 and the Indian crackdown in Kashmir, journalist Mushtaq Ganaie was abruptly arrested by Indian security forces. He was detained and beaten, without an arrest warrant being issued. The BJP refused to comment on his case, as they simultaneously detained Mehbooba Mufti and other Kashmiri officials. Gowhar Wani, a freelance journalist and photographer in the region, was also threatened by police and told to stop taking photographs of the government’s activities in the area.
India is ranked 142 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index list. The RSF cite “increasing pressure to toe the ruling government’s Hindu nationalist line” as reasoning for their rating. It does not come as a surprise, therefore, that the BJP have expressed outrage at Goswami’s case, whose network aligns itself closely with the ruling government. But freedom of the press is not conditional on the journalist or organization involved - it is unconditional. Arnab Goswami’s arrest is concerning. But it is no more concerning than the cases of Vinod Dua, or Mushtaq Ganaie, Gowhar Wani, or the countless other journalists refusing to be a mouthpiece for the government.