This was the headline of an article in the Washington Post, on March 4, by two researchers of The Polis Project, who looked at the “contradictory, biased, incendiary and uncorroborated” reports in a number of media vehicles including India Today, NDTV, News 18, The Indian Express, First Post, Mumbai Mirror and ANI.
“Very few media establishments in India have been able to stand against the influence of political leaders. Now, along with the media’s legitimisation of an ideology that promotes violence—including riots and lynchings—its performance after Pulwama leaves severe doubts as to whether it is engaged in journalism or the propagation of Hindu majoritarianism,” is the broad conclusion of Suchitra Vijayan and Vasundhara Sirnate Drennan.
As conclusions go, that is neither new nor earth-shaking, but the saving grace is that somebody wrote it and someone published it, both activities in increasing danger in India as the sound of the jackboots grow louder.
Pulwama, of course, is just another example in the story of the independent media’s capitulation and collapse in the Narendra Modi era.
A simpler, tighter headline could well have been:
“Indian media is the BJP’s propaganda machine”
42 years after Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency with press censorship as its bludgeon, the BJP veteran L.K. Advani‘s remark that “when the Indian media was asked to bend, it crawled” is recounted with much nostalgia.
As if it is a thing of the past; as if it can never happen again.
But, as the social scientist turned politician Yogendra Yadav points out in a recent episode of Shut up ya Kunal, Indian media post-2014 has gone way beyond that: it is not just bending, it is lying prostrate at the feet of power, and is “licking the carpet”.
Both sides of the carpet, actually.
A worthy case study is the speeches made by news media leaders at the summits, conclaves and other schmooze-fests organised in the name of “events”—a greasy revenue stream created by media houses by cosying up to the very people they must be covering and uncovering.
Take two of them delivered in the last week of February, one by a media owner and the other by a journalist cum media manager, within four days of each other.
The first on February 22, 2019 by Vineet Jain, the managing director of Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd, the promoters of The Times of India, The Economic Times, Times Now and a host of language publications.
And the second on February 25, 2019: Rahul Joshi, managing director and Editor-in-Chief of Network18, the Mukesh Ambani-owned behemoth, which controls 20 channels in 15 languages.
As Narendra Modi walks on to the stage at the “Rising India” summit of Network18, “Asia’s Best Anchor” Zakka Jacob delivers this eulogy:
Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the man who is right at the heart of rising India, the man who is putting India on the global map yet again, the great helmsman of the Indian dream, the chief guest of our function this evening, honourable prime minister Shri Narendra Modi.”
Rahul Joshi then begins his welcome address:
By RAHUL JOSHI
“It’s special honour that Modiji is delivering the opening address at the ‘Rising India’ summit, whose title connotes India’s time has come, and it is now.
“It seems like just the other day when Narendra Modi stormed Lutyens Delhi, riding the sentiment of ‘Achche Din’, and the slogan ‘Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar’.
“So five years on, I decided to take stock of the five years. I recently asked one of Modi’s fiercest, staunchest and most vocal critics why he stopped attacking the prime minister in the last two years.
“He was candid, when he said this to me: ‘Dekhiye, agar kisi ke mehbooba ko gaali denge, tho usko achcha nahi lagega. Isi liye, main muddon par tho main pradhan mantri se matbedh rakhta hoon, par personal attacks abh kabhi nahin karta.’
“I have heard of a nation in conversation with itself, but not in a romantic affair with its prime minister.
“The most vocal critics of Modiiji even after five long years do not doubt the man’s sincerity and intent, don’t doubt his capacity for insane amount of hard work, his intensity, passion, commitment and above all else, a sense of derring-do.
“As someone who comes from the heartland, ‘aadmi main bahut daring hain’.
“And because of these attributes in him, the past five years have been near-transformational for India. The implementation of GST has ensured that India is one nation with one tax. The insolvency and bankruptcy code is cleaning up our banking system.
“The humblest of our citizens have bank accounts which means that government can reach them directly and not into the pockets of the corrupt. Ujwala, Jan Dhan, Mudra, Ayushman Bharat have all been gamechangers.
“And the most impactful of all, the Swacch Bharat mission is getting rid of the mess in the villages and our streets.
“Pradhan mantri ji, yahan aage baithe huye bahut logon se aap ne jhadoo lag vaya hai.
“India is today the fastest growing major economy in the world and it seems quite fitting that India is eclipsing our former colonial master, Britain, to become the world’s fifth largest economy at this time.
“According to the IMF, our economy is 50 per cent larger compared to 2014 when Modi came to power.
“On the ground, the Vande Bharat Express is setting new records and in space, ISRO is deploying a record of satellites and is poised for the first manned mission.
“With this report card and the vision of a New India, Modiji plans to face the electorate in a few months time. Which is why, we have chosen as our theme the topic, beyond politics, defining national priorities.
“For, despite all our differences, there is something which unites us as a nation, the mission of a rising India.
“And finally, Mr Modiji, even as you seek reelection, your next fight is not with the mahagatbandhan or with the Congress party, or any other party, but something that has struck at the heart of what is most dear to us: our sovereignty.
“The country is saddened, outraged, angry as terror struck at the heart of our very own Kashmir. I can only imagine what must be going through your mind.
“When I met you a few days after the Pathankot attack, I could see how agitated you were, how restless you were to act in the face of growing terrorism, how determined you were to weed out this menace.
“And as terror strikes again, the nation once again looks to you for leadership.”
The actor Kabir Bedi welcomes the gathering and welcomes the prime minister, before Vineet Jain takes the stage.
By VINEET JAIN
“We launched the Economic Times Global Business Summit in January 2015 not long after the Narendra Modi government took office.
“We are honoured that the prime minister has chosen this platform on multiple occasions to outline his vision for India and its economy. We thank you for being with this through this journey.
“You have never shied away from dreaming big, and from setting yourself bold targets, even when they have seemed almost unachievable.
# Many of your initiatives have been game-changing and life-altering. From Swacch Bharat, Ujwala and Saubhagya, to Jan Dhan and Ayushman Bharat.
# Direct benefits transfer for payments of subsidies have not only plugged leaks in the system but touched millions of lives.
“Inflation, which is like a tax on the poor, is down to 2 per cent from 6 per cent in 2014.
“And that is what has made five years of your government so full of purpose and vitality.
“What is particularly heartwarming is that you have been able to so much for the underprivileged while at the same time promoting the cause of trade and industry.
“Later this year, India will become the fifth largest economy in the world.
“Ease of doing business has improved dramatically from a very lowly rank of 142 in 2014 to 77 now.
“Landmark reforms such as the Indian Bankruptcy Code and GST have promoted tax compliance and ensured companies pay lenders and suppliers on time.
“These are deep reforms, the benefits of which will become more and more apparent over time. Similarly RERA has greatly improved transparency in the murky real estate market.
“All this would not have been possible without a strong and stable government, one that is able to innovate on policy and provide the governance to see this through.
“In Mr Modi we have a visionary leader who has established close rapport with his counterparts around the world and can play a lead role in coming up with solutions to the pressing problems of today and tomorrow.”
Obviously, Rahul Joshi’s is the sleazier act here, but a few things stand out in these excellent lecture-demonstrations of sucking up:
# Both speeches are identical in length: Joshi speaks for 6.12 minutes; Jain for 6.34.
# Both speeches conflate the Modi government’s goals with their events.
# Both speeches are embarrassingly sweet to the extent of sounding unctuous.
# Both speeches use the same slogans, schemes, and claims as many of Modi’s own truth-challenged speeches and government advertisements.
# Both speeches repeat the untested talking points and propaganda claims that BJP spokespersons make day in and day out.
# Both speeches use BJP election advertising jargon like game-changer, transformation.
# Both speeches, remarkably, play the Narendra Modi song of comparing everything to before 2014.
Given the similarities, it can be asked if these are pre-approved speeches Vineet Jain and Rahul Joshi are delivering? If so, who is okaying them: the Prime Minister’s Office or its slogan and propaganda division, Niti Aayog?
It can, of course, be argued as it will be, that the prime minister is an honoured guest, one who doesn’t accept every media invitation, and that these are not occasions to be critical. After all, who has forgotten the ETGBS fiasco a couple of years ago.
But there is such a thing as detached attachment, and Jain, Joshi and Jacob show scant evidence of that.
What is the message that goes out, down the line, in media houses when their owners and managers and “journalists” do this naked pole dance before power?
And what is the message the reading, viewing, voting public receive?