17 March 2014

Aap, Media & Us

   Is Aam Aadmi Party's accusation of deliberate misreporting by television media valid?
   Over the last fortnight, I have watched all Hindi and English news channels regularly, and have seen consistent evidence of a clear and pronounced slant in reporting against AAP.
   Arvind Kejriwal says the turnaround happened with his Gujarat visit, and I can testify on the strength of the evidence I saw that he is right about the timing. At the beginning of the Gujarat roadshow, all important channels were covering it as they should because the public support was visible and it was certainly 'news'. They even showed footage of Kejriwal's Ahmedabad rally which questioned Modi directly, but after that, something seems to have changed. Was it because Kejriwal went to Narendra Modi's office, demanding answers to questions about Gujarat's so-called development?
     Whether this timing is only coincidence, I do not know, because in the interim came the AAP protest outside BJP's office at Delhi which showed both party workers in poor light. Did the media cool off to AAP after this event? May be. But even so, not one media channel questioned why the police did not question even one BJP worker while they booked 14 AAP workers and took two of their leaders to police stations for questioning. This is a valid journalistic question, especially on the strength of TV visuals which showed that the stoning began from the BJP office, and it was much later that both were equally culpable.

     Once the Gujarat roadshow was over, the coverage of the Mumbai roadshow was completely negative in all the mainstream channels - NDTV, Aaj-Tak, IBN, ABP and Times-Now. 'Why?' is a good investigative question. If you see and compare the coverage of the two events in Gujarat and Mumbai, the difference is enormous, and the slant will be obvious. None of the channels reported the spontaneous crowd arrival from the airport to Andheri to Churchgate, and the frenzy whch was actually a display of support for AAP. Instead, ALL the channels said 'what an inconvenience to the public'. Each and every day of the year, we have the the red beacons of the Prime Minister, or the President, or Ministers, or Chief Ministers, hold up traffic for their convoys - that is the time to report on inconvenience, which the media does not do. Now, in election time, when ten thousand ordinary citizens (not paid audience like the BJP and Congress rallies) come out happily, spontaneously, waving and cheering, this is negated and called 'inconvenience'? When the video of the scene at Churchgate was shown, the TV anchor could have done two things: he could say what a huge crowd and response this is, or: he could say what an unruly crowd, they have overturned the metal detector. Amazingly, EVERY news channel anchor chose the second option. Really, this is a journalistic shame if it based on widespread incompetence, or it is a national shame if the mainstream media is indeed fixed, as AAP is suggesting.
     Even before the Gujarat roadshow, TV channel Zee News was completely against AAP, to the extent that its anchors would taunt and demean and vilify the party and its candidates. Any normal and resonable viewer could see this bias, and therefore conclude that Zee owner Subhash Goel had decided to favour Modi and oppose Kejriwal. So why the surprise now when this bias is pointed out in public? A few other channels are also behaving likewise, like the small one called News24, which is owned by Rajiv Shukla. Now this chap is a former alleged journalist who was roundly accused of being a political middleman when he was a reporter, but who later decided to drop the confusion and became a full-time Congress agent and MP. Imagine, he comes on his own TV channel as a 'Congress spokesman' and attacks Kejriwal - now, how much credibility can such a media channel have?
  While watching television news, one can also make out that not all journalists are alike. The Haryana AAP rally, for instance, was being undermined by one TV anchor, but his reporter on the ground could not hide his excitement and spoke of the groundswell of support for the party. At Mumbai, one anchor (I think it was ABP) for one moment could not resist her journalistic instincts and asked, 'does not such a crowd show that Kejriwal is a crowd-puller' to which the reporter on ground said 'many people are saying he is only pulling a stunt'. In any credible news organisation, that reporter would be pulled out immediately to be re-educated on news-reporting. But who will pull him out, the anchors? They themselves are guilty of coming across as prejudiced - giving opinions and conclusions, and making leading statements all the time, instead of reporting facts on the ground.
     I have also considered the fact whether this has been a momentary lapse on the part of the media, and I have to conclude that it is not so. Because there are two important issues on which the ENTIRE media is not willing to question:
   1. On the gas exploration scam involving Reliance, and what is the BJP stand on it?
   2. On the facts and figures challenging the so-called development in Gujarat - what is the real story?
   Not even one among all the television media is asking these two questions. They have BJP members in their studios every day, but they are conspicuous in their silence. In the Harry Potter story, the entire nation and government was so scared of the evil force 'Voldemort' that they could not even take his name. Has contemporary Indian media become such that they too have 'one who cannot be named' and who they are so petrified of? One may reasonably suspect that the silence is a conspiracy, which is what Arvind Kejriwal is asking. I don't see why not.
     I feel that this entire issue of the media concerns all of us, even those who feel they are 'not interested' in politics. The steady deterioration of integrity in media reporting is a major concern because it affects and moulds thinking and behaviour in society. Media's gross misbehaviour has been a matter of concern to many people inside the media industry, but it has been ignored so methodically by senior journalists and intellectuals that the silence has been deafening to us.
     Now, it has taken an outsider to point this out. Thank you, Arvind Kejriwal, you have done us a service by naming the Indian Voldemort and stirring up a scared Indian elite.
     As an aam aadmi, I would also like to do a service to you: Sir, your 'dil jeetna hai' slogan has so much more meaning and resonance than your 'jail bhej doonga'. Please think about this.
Jai Hind.