Modi’s re­marks on me­dia are un­fair

Ex­cep­tions aside, a vast ma­jor­ity of them sing his praises and keep crit­i­cism only for the op­po­si­tion

Hindustan Times (Patiala) - - Comment - SHEKHAR GUPTA, By spe­cial ar­range­ment with ThePrint The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi rou­tinely com­plains that jour­nal­ists are bi­ased against him and his party. He also says they are soft on the op­po­si­tion, es­pe­cially the Congress and the Gandhi fam­ily. He has now used a me­dia in­ter­view, one in the se­ries in the slog over phase of these elec­tions, to ar­tic­u­late his view in some de­tail.

In an in­ter­view to The In­dian Ex­press re­cently, he made the fol­low­ing main points about jour­nal­ists:

They might pre­tend to be neu­tral, but they aren’t. Fair jour­nal­ists must be neu­tral.

In the past, ed­i­tors/jour­nal­ists could con­ceal their predilec­tions. Ed­i­tors al­ways used to be anony­mous, speak­ing rarely, if at all, at sem­i­nars. Now they speak all the time. To­day, with most of them chat­ter­ing away on so­cial me­dia (mainly Twit­ter) they are ex­posed.

They are com­plicit in col­lec­tively ma­lign­ing his im­age, a part of the Khan Mar­ket Gang.

As some­one who’s been around in jour­nal­ism for more than a bit, I am happy to join this ar­gu­ment with him. I break down my re­sponse in seven short points.

Jour­nal­is­tic neu­tral­ity is an im­pos­si­bil­ity. It is also an un­called-for de­mand. Liv­ing be­ings will al­ways have a view on any sit­u­a­tion or is­sue. What jour­nal­ists can, and should do, is to em­ploy pro­fes­sional tools and tests to make their re­port­ing ob­jec­tive and fair.

So­cial me­dia, es­pe­cially Twit­ter, is a great

new medium for jour­nal­ists to mul­ti­ply their reach and im­pact. It can also be a trap and PM Modi is right to say that when jour­nal­ists make their pref­er­ences so pub­lic, how do you trust them with their ed­i­to­rial fair­ness? It’s a prob­lem and news­rooms are learn­ing to deal with. In the US, legacy giants such as The New

York Times and Wash­ing­ton Post have greatly strength­ened their so­cial me­dia poli­cies, plac­ing lim­i­ta­tions on their jour­nal­ists pub­lish­ing their per­sonal views if they re­veal their bias.

It is in­cor­rect to say ed­i­tors’ views were not known un­til the ar­rival of so­cial me­dia. This varies be­tween in­di­vid­u­als and eras. Even in the past, many em­i­nent ed­i­tors such as Frank Moraes, BG Vergh­ese, Gir­i­lal Jain, Arun Shourie, Prab­hash Joshi and Ra­jen­dra Mathur have shared their views gen­er­ously and with­out hypocrisy or pre­tence of an­o­dyne neu­tral­ity with the read­ers.

The PM is un­fair to the vast ma­jor­ity of In­dian me­dia, which dot­ingly sup­ports him to­day, by in­sin­u­at­ing that jour­nal­ists are mostly op­posed to him. If you watch your TV chan­nels at prime time, all, bar the odd ex­cep­tion, mostly sing his praises and keep tough ques­tions only for the op­po­si­tion. He has the big­gest me­dia fan club for a leader I have seen since 1977. Again, bar­ring a cou­ple of ex­cep­tions, the big dailies in most lan­guages do not give him any dis­com­fort.

Some me­dia still ques­tions and crit­i­cises him. But he is not the only leader in power to face this. Ev­ery leader does, as did Man­mo­han Singh, par­tic­u­larly in his sec­ond term. The same Time mag­a­zine, which has now caused con­ster­na­tion by call­ing Modi In­dia’s ‘Di­vider-in-Chief’, had fea­tured Singh on the cover with the head­line, ‘The Un­der­achiever’. The PM men­tioned two spe­cific is­sues from the UPA pe­riod, the for­ma­tion of the Na­tional Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil (NAC) which could over­rule the Cab­i­net and Rahul Gandhi tear­ing that or­di­nance. Both had drawn crit­i­cism. The les­son is, when you are in power, be pre­pared to face the heat. Or at least some heat.

His char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of his crit­ics, where we pre­sume he com­bines jour­nal­ists and lib­eral in­tel­lec­tu­als, as Khan Mar­ket Gang is the most in­ter­est­ing high­light. It is as if that tiny old mar­ket is to de­vi­ous Lu­tyens’ Delhi what Balakot is to ter­ror­ist Pak­istan. My sub­mis­sion is, ir­ri­tat­ing though he may find this pesky lot, he greatly ex­ag­ger­ates their power and in­flu­ence. He does in­deed flat­ter them. It also shows he is read­ing too much Twit­ter. He talked about read­ing a col­lec­tion of 50 tweets by a jour­nal­ist/in­tel­lec­tual and fig­ur­ing out his re­al­ity. That, prime min­is­ter, is too much time spent on Twit­ter.

And fi­nally, where does it leave us jour­nal­ists? I started work­ing in early 1977 with a tiny Delhi-based weekly called Demo­cratic World. We had cre­ated a home-ad for the mag­a­zine that read: “The Left thinks we are Right, the Right thinks we are Left, so we must be do­ing some­thing right.” I’d say, fol­low the same view. Keep your opin­ions and predilec­tions close, no prob­lem. Just be pro­fes­sional enough that you can con­vince your au­di­ences of your ob­jec­tiv­ity. We are mere jour­nal­ists. We aren’t po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists. What we wish for, can’t be a part of our jour­nal­ism.

Fi­nally, don’t worry about your au­di­ence’s minds get­ting prej­u­diced by the abuse you face on so­cial me­dia. Be­cause it won’t hap­pen. Your au­di­ences are smart. And if you so wish, you can up­date that old ad copy for mod­ern times: “The Left thinks we are Right, the Right thinks we are Left, so we get trolled by both.”

A thick skin is as much a pro­fes­sional ne­ces­sity in jour­nal­ism now as a clean nose and an erect spine.

SONU MEHTA/HT

Some me­dia still ques­tion Modi. But he is not the only leader to face this

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