It is hard to believe that it has been only one month since Republic TV was launched with so much fanfare. It seems like a much longer period, perhaps because so much has happened in one month. The channel has blended into the Indian media scene with its screaming anchors and noisy debates. In this one month, it has managed to collect one defamation case and one criminal complaint for theft and copyright violation. According to BARC statistics, the newly launched channel managed to attract a large viewership in the first week itself as rival channels cried foul about unfair practices.
Scorecard for the media however cannot be not based on viewership alone. Media has great power to set the agenda and shape public opinion. But with great power comes great responsibility. As the fourth pillar of democracy, its most important function is to scrutinise the actions of the government and hold those in power to account. How well did Republic do in this regard? The channel proudly states, “Republic is independent. Republic is global. Republic is your movement”, how far did it really live up to these tall claims?
To answer the above questions, we will focus on the news as it unfolded through the hashtags promoted by Republic. The reason for a hashtag driven analysis is that the channel has selected them to set the agenda and drive public opinion. Unlike when it is reporting news, when a channel uses a hashtag, it is drawing attention to a particular topic and engaging with its audience on the topic.
Let us look at the recurrent themes that emerge from the hashtags promoted by Republic in its first month and how the channel is using it to steer the public debate on important issues.
Nationalism was the most dominant theme going by the number of hashtags devoted to it. The hashtags were designed to drum up nationalist support – #NationWithForces #NationLovesIndianArmy, #IndiaAgainstAntiNationals, #ArmyAbovePolitics #NationFirstNoCompromise, and so on.
For Republic, nationalism serves a dual purpose. Apart from distracting attention from real issues, it is also used as a stick to beat the opposition. While it projects #NationWithForces, the opposition is singled out as insulting the Army and martyrs. #AkhileshInsultsMartyrs, #LeftInsultsArmy
In the current era of hyper nationalism, any talk on nationalism is not complete without the “nationalists” declaring others as anti-nationals. Not to be left behind, Republic organized a debate on “Who is an antinational” with the hashtag #IndiaAgainstAntiNationals. It brought together a panel it considered qualified to classify fellow citizens into nationals and anti-nationals. While Major Gaurav Arya took on JNU, Sambit Patra declared “questioning the conscience of the govt., and the Constitution is anti-national”. A fair amount of time was spent discussing Arundhati Roy’s statement which it later turned out that she had not made. It was still not a wasted debate for the channel as it achieved the important purpose of keeping everyone distracted from any real issues that they should be bothered about.
The channel’s obsession with nationalism, army and Pakistan can be seen from this long list of hashtags on the topic. It appears that if it was not for the Kashmir issue and India’s problems with Pakistan, the channel would struggle with what to report. It is not that these are not important issues but that a disproportionate importance being given to them at the cost of other issues.
|Nationalism / Army||Pakistan|
In the one month, Republic continuously reminded its viewers of their nationalist duty with these chest-thumping hashtags at the cost of bringing up issues for discussion. There was not a single hashtag devoted to topics like unemployment, farmer suicides or growing vigilantism.
Unparalleled Opposition bashing
Even before its official launch, Republic came out with videos focusing on Opposition leaders like Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi with the hashtag, #ArnabWithYouSoon. Arnab was coming soon to take them on. It is therefore no surprise that in its one month of operation itself, Republic has done an outstanding job of holding the opposition and liberals responsible for failures of the government.
At the time of Sukma attack, the channel was not yet launched but the official handle put out a set of tweets from Arnab Goswami questioning the student leaders. There were no questions to the government.
ARNAB ASKS: Can the cocktail circuit media and maoist sympathisers please stand up and name themselves?
— Republic (@republic) April 25, 2017
Republic TV focused on several opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor, P. Chidambram, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal. They were questioned, mocked and in the words of Republic, “exposed” on various issues. Not to mention, they were also accused of being not “nationalist” enough and insulting the army at the slightest pretext. An article in Wire was the focus of a full show with the hashtag #LeftInsultsArmy.
It is interesting to note how in its tweets and hashtags, the channel often addressed the opposition leaders by their first names but did not follow the same protocol for BJP leaders. You will find a Rahul, Farooq, Akhilesh, Kejri and Lalu but you won’t find a Narendra or Amit or Sushma. Even the BJP spokesperson is always referred to as Dr. Sambit Patra.
Here is an example, “Rahul, Farooq, Akhilesh, stop insulting martyrs”.
— Republic (@republic) May 10, 2017
Here is a summary of the hashtags focused for different parties. The ones focused on the opposition are almost always critical and name and shame the leader and the party. The ones for BJP are either celebratory or neutral. Unlike the hashtags used for the opposition, BJP or its leaders are not held responsible when a hashtag focuses on them. The blame is either attributed to the opposition or to fringe elements within the party.
The hashtag #BabriTestForBJP is one of the rare instances when Republic came close to asking BJP a question, “Shouldn’t the BJP isolate itself from the Ram Mandir fringe”. Even in asking this question, the messaging was clear – The government is distinct from the fringe and must distance itself from it.
The hashtag #RepublicStingsFringe was the other time the channel came close to discussing something for which the ruling party could be held responsible. In this discussion on moral policing, the target turned out to be Bajrang Dal and Sriram Sene and not the government’s failure to condemn them. Once again, it was not the government that was at fault, it was the fringe.
When not chest-thumping about nationalist causes and the army, the channel kept busy with oppositions and liberals. It didn’t hesitate to label anyone who looks at the government with a critical lens as pseudo, frauds, shallow foreign funded anti-nationals, maoist sympathisers, cocktail activists and pseudo-secular brigade. Even other media was referred to as cocktail circuit media. Placing itself on a high moral ground, Republic constantly pushed the concept of the “enemy from within”.
Super Exclusive #4 has a lot in store. Stay tuned to Republic TV as Arnab is only a few minutes away pic.twitter.com/YT9qsqxslC
— Republic (@republic) May 11, 2017
Media trial most foul
The coverage of the Sunanda Pushkar case saw Republic play the role of the witness, investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one. In its “Super Exclusive” coverage, the channel hounded Tharoor over an investigation into the death of his wife. At one point the anchor even declared, “we have surrounded you, we know where you are”
— Republic (@republic) May 9, 2017
On Twitter, Republic belted out hashtags like #SunandaMurderTapes #SunandaNoteOut, #SunandaFreshExpose, #FreshSunandaExpose. In a blurring of facts, opinions and speculations, Republic declared Pushkar’s death to be a murder. With statements like “Sunanda Murder cover blown” and “Is it a coincidence that the murder was committed at the same time that CCTV went blank”, the channel continued its hysterical coverage till a defamation case was filed against it by Tharoor and it was asked by the high court to stick to facts and bring down the rhetoric. It is this coverage that prompted Shashi Tharoor to launch his now famous “exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations and outright lies” tirade against Arnab Goswami who he called “an unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalist”.
— Republic (@republic) May 9, 2017
Another topic that got a lot of air time from Republic TV was the controversial preacher, Zakir Naik who also had several hashtags like ZakirMalaysiaTapes, #ZakirConversionFactory, #TraitorZakirBanned dedicated to him.
Deflect attention from government’s failures
Republic managed effectively to deflect attention away from any failures of the government by using different strategies. At times it blacked out the issue altogether and at others, it distracted the viewers by discussing something totally unrelated. Whatever the strategy adopted, the objective was the same – deflect attention from the raging issues and set a new agenda for public debate.
On May 18th, when seven men were brutally lynched by a mob in Jharkhand, Republic was busy with its nationalist agenda with featured hashtags of #PakShamed,#PakKashmirStunt, #NationWithForces, #CongForPakLawyer. Over the three days that the story unfolded, there was not a single tweet by Republic on this topic. It brought us news from a zoo in Ahmedabad but not a word on the lynching incidents.
Sprinklers and coolers installed for animals at a zoo in Ahmedabad to bring respite from prevailing heat wave
— Republic (@republic) May 20, 2017
The issue of virtual beef ban as a result of regulations on sale of cattle was reduced to questioning the Congress and liberals about “What is secular about eating the meat of a calf slaughtered in public view?” There was no discussion on the ban and the narrative was successfully changed from questioning the new regulations to attacking the seculars with the hashtag #BeefFestShowdown.
— Republic (@republic) May 29, 2017
More recently, on June 6th, when five farmers were shot dead in Madhya Pradesh, Republic used the hashtags #LeftInsultsArmy and #RepublicStingsFatwaBrigade to keep the viewers busy with a completely different set of issues. One day later, when the issue had escalated, Republic reluctantly covered it with the hashtag #FarmersFaceBullets. Unlike in the case of opposition, BJP or Shivraj Chauhan were not named or held responsible in the hashtag. The question that was asked was “What do the residents of Mandsaur have to say about the political parties?” You heard it right. No, not the government, but political parties
— Republic (@republic) June 7, 2017
Republic seems to have adopted the motto, “thou shalt not question the government” very seriously. All uncomfortable questions at all times were only directed at the opposition or liberals or anyone else but the government.
So when Republic was in its own words, “stinging” ISIS, the question it asked was, “Where is the pseudo secular brigade now?
— Republic (@republic) May 17, 2017
On the completion of three years of Modi Sarkar, there was no scorecard, no critical evaluation, no questions to the government, whatsoever. The only debate where Arnab Goswami said he had five straight question, none were addressed to the government about its successes and failures in the three years. The first question was about Rahul Gandhi. Another question asked whether Narendra Modi is the most popular Prime Minister of India since independence and whether 2019 is now a foregone conclusion. A new cheerleader is born.
Everything about Republic is loud. And Republic can’t stop talking about itself. From “trapping” Lashkar to “stinging” ISIS, Republic claims to have done it all in the space of one month. With hashtags like #RepublicTrapsLashkar, #RepublicStingsLashkar, #RepublicStingsISIS, #RebublicExposesPak, the channel continuously drums up its own achievements even at the risk of sounding ridiculous.
Armed with viewership data, after the first week of its operation, Republic had declared itself to be #RepublicNo1. “Bigger than all other English channels put together”, in its own words, it had created history.
Republic creates history. pic.twitter.com/C6EF03cfdq
— Republic (@republic) May 18, 2017
By the third week, it claimed to have decimated competition.
Republic TV's viewership continues to soar! pic.twitter.com/gIXDN1TKfN
— Republic (@republic) May 25, 2017
From what it looks like after one month, “minor” issues like unemployment, farmers distress, slowdown of the economy, cow vigilantism and incidents of lynching will have to wait. Republic is busy “stinging” ISIS. Any sort of evaluation of the policies and actions of the government will have to wait as well. Republic is busy in exposing the opposition and holding it to account for the failures of the government.
On the occasion of Republic completing one month, Alt News would like to repeat its earlier questions to Arnab and Republic:
Alt News ASKS: Can the real PSEUDOS and FRAUD journalists who call themselves nationalists but do not raise the issues an aam aadmi faces stand up and name themselves?
Alt News ASKS: Should media act as a cheerleader for the government?
Alt News ASKS: Should media deflect the attention away from the failures of the government to questioning student leaders, opposition leaders, seculars and everyone else?
Alt News ASKS: If not the media, WHO will hold the government to account?