Ever the news itself, Republic TV recently hit the headlines after Arnab Goswami, its owner and star anchor, was arrested by the Maharashtra Police, in early November. Goswami was arrested in connection to businessman Anvay Naik’s death by suicide. Naik had named Goswami in his suicide note, writing that the Republic TV head owed him money. Goswami remained in custody for eight days. The Supreme Court of India, which dealt with his case in record speed, directed that he be released on interim bail.
Goswami’s arrest sparked reactions from across the political spectrum. Among the more surprising reactions were public comments by many members of the Narendra Modi cabinet, who said that putting a journalist in jail was an attack on freedom of expression. (Far be it for the same politicians to pay attention to any other newspersons presently behind bars.) Others, many journalists among them, refused to consider this arrest a crackdown on the media because they did not see Goswami as a member of the press. His particular style of self-proclaimed “nationalist” and partisan reporting, they argued, misled viewers in the name of journalism.
Whether or not one disagrees with this line of argument, the accusation of partisanship against Republic TV is undeniable. We studied all prime-time debates held since the channel was launched in May 2017, until April 2020, when we began the study—1,779 in all. Our conclusion was clear: Republic TV’s debates have been consistently biased in favour of the Modi government and its policies, as well as the ideology of the BJP. What’s worse, these debates have rarely featured some of the most pressing issues that impact Indians, such as the state of the economy, education or health. Instead, they have consisted mostly of attacks against the Opposition as well as any groups or persons that oppose the ruling government’s ideology.
Some figures are staggering, if unsurprising. Nearly fifty percent of Republic TV’s political debates criticised the opposition, but it has not conducted even one debate that we could classify as being in the opposition’s favour. Republic TV aired approximately 8 anti-BJP debates for every 100 anti-opposition debates. The channel amped up its anti-opposition debates in the lead up to the 2019 elections, increasing steadily from February to April, when elections began. In late 2019 and early 2020, it conducted 54 debates on the CAA, nearly thirty percent of which criticised the Shaheenbagh sit-in. Every other debate favoured the ruling party’s stance and opposed the CAA protests. Debates on issues such as agriculture, health and economy formed barely one percent of its prime-time discussions. Consistently and aggressively, Republic TV promoted hashtags that lionised Modi, saying he “crushed” Pakistan, worked “magic” at the G7 meeting, that he “strikes” corruption and “punishes” cheats.
For the sake of comparison, we contrasted Republic’s debates with those of NDTV. Why these two? Because, we hypothesised, in the current spectrum of popular mainstream English news channels, these two are far apart. All our data was collected from the debates uploaded to the channels’ respective websites.