Journalists sucking up to people in power is so old school.
In #NewIndia, the done thing is for journalists to cosy up to the religious amongst them who have sneaked into the sanctum sanctorum—and make the right noises at the altar so that the presiding deities and priests know that they are outside. #Sabarimala
Twitter offers the perfect platform for such public display of devotion.
Prime minister Narendra Modi‘s 95-minute “interview” with Reuters’ partner Asian News International (ANI) editor Smita Prakash on January 1 led to the usual suspects rushing to certify its contents, although it did not touch on most hot-button issues (here and here).
Not surprisingly, not too many journalists expressed a differing point of view—at least within earshot of the tantris. #Sabarimala
Except a politician who would have been a fine cartoonist: Raj Thackeray (below).
But it is Congress president Rahul Gandhi‘s loose labelling of the ANI interviewer as a “pliable journalist” while addressing a press conference on the #RafaleDeal that has let the cat among the media pigeons.
First the offended journalist shot off a missive, on Twitter of course.
And then, not surprisingly, the “Tongue Parivar” joined in, with a serving Union minister notorious for his machinations in the media jumping to the interviewer’s defence and urging the Editors Guild of India to respond.
The response of many journalists showed how the media is walking on egg shells in the time of Modi.
And, on the other side, journalists found Arun Jaitley‘s categorisation of Modi’s interviewer as an “independent editor” too juicy to let go.
The Editors Guild of India, as ordered by Jaitley, came up with a statement on behalf of “pseudo-liberals”.
“The Editors Guild of India has noted with concern the words used by Congress President Rahul Gandhi in his criticism of ANI Editor-in-Chief Smita Prakash who interviewed Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week.
“The Guild believes journalists should claim no immunity from healthy and civilised criticism. At the same time, labelling of journalists has emerged as a favourite tactic on the part of the establishment to discredit, delegitimise and intimidate them.
“We have seen our political class use this for some time now. In the recent past, top BJP leaders as well as those of AAP have used unambiguously abusive expressions such as “presstitute”, news-traders, “bazaaru” (saleable commodities) or “dalals” (pimps) for journalists.
“Combined with ploys such as boycotts, denial of access and lately government accreditation, this adds up to a reprehensible strategy to throttle media freedoms.
“This must be reversed. Journalists, we believe, will continue to deal with these with their usual thick skins and not let these tactics intimidate them. The Guild, as an apex, non-partisan institution, however, takes strong exception to this tendency and calls for its halt.”
But the faux outrage, just another day in the life of Twitter, couched many realities.
1) The plight of non-Delhi journalists whose very real troubles do not excite ministers, journalists and their associations similarly. (here)
2) The silence of ministers, journalists and associations when journalists and almost-journalists are jailed in faraway states under draconian laws. (here)
3) The brazen on-going delegitimisation of journalists by the ministers and trolls who call them names and launch MacCarthy-ite witchunts.
Arun Jaitley’s defence of the ANI editor and the response of various associations also couched ANI’s questionable role as an establishment megaphone.
TheKen did a deep-dive of how ANI has dubiously built up its monopoly.
A Twitter poll underlined the farcical nature of the debate.
In the end, no amount of breast-beating can hide two glaring facts.
India’s position on the World Press Freedom Index has consistently fallen year after year during Narendra Modi‘s tenure.
And 500 days on, Modi is still to find a word for Gauri Lankesh, the journalist-activist who was killed at her doorstep in Bangalore by right-wing lunatics.