Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Is objectivity no longer a sacrosanct principle?

Narendra Modi has turned out to be a different kind of prime minister, especially for the media. What media houses had perhaps not quite bargained for was his becoming content to get along merrily without feeling the need to court any of them. Modi was known to be a man of few needs, but editors and journalists hadn’t really thought they’d have to contend with being ignored, something they are not really used to. The Modi Government seems quite happy making do with All India Radio, Doordarshan, PTI and UNI. At a time when journalism in India is facing a credibility crisis, when objectivity and independence are hardly considered sacrosanct anymore, it does make sense in a strange sort of way to keep the media at arm’s length. Modi has no media advisor; reports suggest he has a septuagenarian public relations officer.

Several media houses, as powerful as they are, are unhappy with the goings-on. They seem irked by the fact that Modi manages to get his messages across to the masses from public platforms and via social media, and not through their newspapers and channels. The Indian people have certainly taken to the PM’s social-media vitality in a big way, at least judging by the followers he has on Twitter and the anxiousness many show to send him (PMO) messages online. Publishers and editors now have the feeling that the government’s intent is to keep media away; the government’s refusal to invite media representatives for various public and diplomatic functions is an example they cite.  

Indeed, referring to the restricted access to ministers and bureaucrats, the Editors Guild of India has asked the Modi Government to "enlarge access and engage more actively" with journalists. "By delaying the establishment of a media interface in the Prime Minister's Office, in restricting access to ministers and bureaucrats in offices and in reducing the flow of information at home and abroad, the government in its early days seems to be on a path that runs counter to the norms of democratic discourse and accountability," the Guild has said in a statement, stressing that the public will be well served by “professional journalistic practices”.

The other side of the story is about private television channels pulling out all the stops to provide virtually non-stop coverage of Modi’s speeches, campaigns, rallies, etc. Ahead of his visit to the USA, the channels announced the timings of coverage, the composition of their teams in the studios in New York and outside, and how such coverage was not to be missed. The telecast from Madison Square Garden began hours before the Modi arrived; NRIs queued up for interviews before and after. There was a repeat telecast, too. It was almost like an Indian Government PR exercise etched to perfection, the only difference being that those conducting it were some of India’s private TV channels. It was an extravaganza of theatre, song and speech… and anchoring, the like of which I have never ever seen. If only media focused its attention to covering the more pressing issues of the day (public health, for instance), what a positive change that would bring to the lives of the underprivileged millions!

Against such over-the-top coverage, I was stunned by the lack of coverage of a kind. When former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa and her three associates were sentenced to four years imprisonment and sent to jail, one Chennai newspaper did not mention a word of it on Page 1, preferring to fill up the page with Modi’s performance in New York. As a loyal reader, I felt terribly let down. Where had the journalism of courage disappeared, I wondered. 

1 comment:

Susan Deborah said...

Being away from home-ground, I try to lap up as much news as I can from Social media and many did mention the JJ issue. I was quite amused and a bit shocked as well.

Do you think social media is slowly replacing traditional media (newspapers and such?)