It was embarrassing to watch the media tie itself in knots while putting Arvind Kejriwal in the dock for his ‘supari journalism’ comment. From the media’s perspective, he had committed some kind of sacrilege, first by saying ‘a large section of the media wanted to finish off the Aam Aadmi Party’, and then by suggesting a way out: ‘people trials’ for those indulging in agenda-driven, motivated journalism. And he had to be shown his place. The tone in the television panel discussions ranged between the patronising and the hectoring but the theme was the same: Kejriwal back off. We are holy cows.
Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is with the arguments put forward to defend the theme. “Aren’t you what you are because of us? Didn’t we give you extensive coverage during the anti-corruption movement? Remember you were nobody before that; you would have remained a mere civil society activist but for us. We made you and now you question our sense ethics?” This is as self-incriminating as it can get.
It seems to suggest that since he is the chief minister today because the media didn’t bother about ethics while promoting him, thus he should have no reason to complain about ethics when things are going against him. Perhaps the discomfort is more about Kejriwal showing the media the mirror and making it aware of its own moral ambiguity on matters ethics, than the act of making a hostile statement against the institution.
The media’s reaction was much more tempered when Narendra Modi called poll surveys bazaaru and Gen VK Singh called journalists ‘presstitutes’. These were passing remarks – or the press deliberately chose to treat these as such. In the case of Kejriwal it is more serious.
Let’s face it. The media’s job is not to make or break people, at least it is not supposed to be. If it claims that it had a huge role in making Kejriwal then he is entirely justified in claiming that to say it’s trying to break him. The argument reflects undiluted hubris. The fact is the media is at best a force-multiplier, not the force itself. The fact that Arvind Kejriwal won 67 seats out of 70 in Delhi despite overwhelmingly negative coverage in the press should be a sobering reminder.
During a television panel discussion, the anchors brought out the numbers to show how much attention they paid to the AAP during the elections and thus, sought to convey to the party that it should be grateful for it. The AAP’s spokesperson on one of the channels was smart enough to point out how much of it was negative. Of course, journalists won’t ask themselves why they were paying so much attention to the AAP and Kejriwal, to be more specific whether they were being charitable for no reason or whether TRP concerns were involved.
Kejriwal has been careful to put in a qualifier in his remark: ‘a large section of it’. It means he does not seek to treat the media as a homogeneous entity guided by a singular strand of anti-AAP thinking. If he wanted to make a sweeping generalization, he was clever enough to leave an escape route for himself. The same cannot be said of the media. The latter’s reaction shows it stands accused exactly of what it holds Kejriwal guilty of. It was obvious that while arguing for itself it was treating itself as a homogeneous entity.
Why can’t it simply admit that the media consists of too many players who don’t think alike, who don’t have the same respect for ethics, who don’t have the same moral standards and who don’t have the same disregard for core journalistic values? The Indian media has always been hypocritical in matters concerning its own failings.
Kejriwal’s suggestion of people’s trial for the media is preposterous. This can at best be called a cry of helplessness. But come to think of it, in an age when opinion overwhelms facts, noise gets precedence over news, private prejudice buries all principles of fair journalism and the media – well, let’s say a section of it – itself looks no better than the lynch mob on the street, there has to be some way out for the ‘victim’. It’s a very unequal fight between the man in control of the loudspeaker and the man without it.
Perhaps the media needs to introspect more and not waste time on defending the indefensible.