By Abhirup Roy and Shilpa Jamkhandikar
MUMBAI, Nov. 5 (Reuters) – A court sent the main presenter of the highly nationalistic and popular Indian television station of the Republic to jail for 14 days for allegedly encouraging a suicide in a case the station blamed on politicians locals angered by its media coverage.
Police picked up Arnab Goswami, an aggressive journalist known for championing right-wing causes in his prime-time debates, from his home in Mumbai early Wednesday, sparking a furious debate over whether the press was being muzzled .
Senior leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rushed to defend Goswami and said it was not possible to deal with the press, blaming the opposition politicians who run the government in the Western state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located.
But the BJP has been criticized for seeking to intimidate journalists and activists in the states it governs. Critics said his defense of free speech was selective and Goswami was a conservative ally of the ruling party.
“Arnab was to BJP what Fox was to Trump in the United States,” said Girish Kuber, editor of the newspaper Loksatta, referring to the American network Fox News whose opinion leaders generally support President Donald Trump.
“No party in India can claim to speak for true freedom of speech and speech,” Kuber said.
Police said the case against Goswami was linked to the 2018 suicide of an interior designer who allegedly left a note saying Republic TV did not pay him for the design work for his TV studio.
A case of incitement to suicide registered against Goswami following the suicide was subsequently dismissed for lack of evidence. But police said they reopened the case and on Wednesday night a district court ordered him to be taken into custody.
Republic TV denied the allegation and said 90% of the amount owed to the creator was paid two years ago. Goswami’s arrest was an “act of revenge and revenge for his media coverage which questioned those in power in the state of Maharashtra,” he said.
Police did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.
Anil Deshmukh, minister of the interior or interior of the state, said Wednesday: “No one is above the law and the police in Maharashtra will take the necessary measures according to the law”.