Kejriwal’s Supari Journalism Accusation is Fair – NDTV

Last night I was watching a news channel and was horrified to see the anchor breathless and shouting at the top of his voice and I was genuinely worried about something happening to him. It took me some time to figure out the real reason for this. Apparently, he was angry because Arvind Kejrwal dared to say that the media is guilty of ‘supari’ journalism and there should be a public trial to judge these “news” reports. The poor AAP representative on the panel was so bulldozed by the torrent unleashed by the anchor that he was hardly audible. I later on found out that this was normal practice on the channel  – that the producer is required to ensure that largely only the anchor’s voice should be heard.   

I have known this anchor for 20 years. I would have been happier if he had raised the issue of corruption in the media,  if he had debated why Arvind was forced to say what he said, and whether there is  any merit in the accusation and does the media need to correct itself. Alas, the focus instead was on histrionics and theatrics. And I discovered that he probably feels that the louder he speaks, the better he gets as a journalist. He is the symptom of the disease which has majorly inflicted the media of late. Over a period of time, cannibalistic journalism is being pursued where morals and ethics seem to have no weight and “quid-pro-quo” journalism is the order of the day. Honest, independent, neutral and dispassionate journalism seems to be a thing of the past.

During the Delhi assembly elections, I observed that at least five 24-hour national channels were running a campaign against AAP. Any Small news items related to AAP were painted as the biggest of crimes, and the biggest of the BJP’s faults were not thought worthy of a mention. I had definite information that one of the channels had turned into a palace of intrigue for planning and planting negative stories against AAP. It was an open secret in that newsroom. Those with a conscience could only “whisper”, and the rest only followed the instructions in toto. There was another channel which had literally boycotted AAP. Not a word was allowed to go on air about AAP. Arvind was a big no-no – this was a unique experiment in journalism.

Another channel, whose editor was caught on tape fixing a monetary deal for the channel, had run a nasty campaign which also targeted AAP. A few newspapers also did not lag behind but they were no match for TV. I was aghast to see this. We in AAP spent a lot of time trying to understand this new phenomenon and we finally reached the conclusion that this was deliberately done and part of a larger political design to prevent AAP from occupying mind-space. The  Delhi elections were a question of life and death for us. But we were helpless.

Our friends in the Media told us point blank that it would get worse as the elections drew nearer, which finally proved to be true. We had no remedy, but we were heartened when we got feedback that people on the ground had also noticed this. The whisper that “media to bika hua hai” (the media has sold out) became louder. It was sad, especially for me as a former editor. I had fought and defended media and TV channels on different fora as a media man in the past. I always believed that there were good journalists and bad journalists, but never realised that there is another category –  “motivated” journalists.  The anti-AAP campaign was part of a bigger design with a blatant political motive. The reportage  was designed to benefit one party over other. It was not journalism per say, it was supari journalism, if I may be permitted to use this much-maligned word.

Thankfully, the people of India are not as ignorant as they are thought to be. Closer to polling, the chorus got louder that a few TV channels were out to destroy AAP. No wonder then that at the launch of my book a few weeks ago, Arvind said to the dismay of many that AAP won despite the media. Once elections were over, I thought the worst was behind us.  But things got more vicious. All rules of good journalism were broken. I would like to cite a few examples -

1. An ex-MLA from the Congress, Asif Khan, boasted that he had an audio tape of the conversation with AAP’s Sanjay Singh in which Sanjay Singh could be heard seeking support before Delhi voted from the Congress to form the government. Every channel ran the allegation without listening to the audio. That so-called tape, which was the basis of the story, was never heard on air. Because there was no such tape. But no channel APOLOGISED for the nonexistent story and tape!

2. A few days ago, another tape surfaced on  TV channels insinuating that Kumar Vishwas had some role in the hanging of the farmer Gajendra Singh who died tragically at an AAP rally. Apparently, Kumar was heard gleefully saying “latak gaya” (he has hung himself). Later it was discovered that the tape was manipulated. It was not Kumar who said “latak gaya”. It was somebody else’s voice. No channel had the dignity to say sorry. As per broadcasting guidelines,no channel should run a tape whose authenticity is not known; merely saying that the channel can’t vouch for the authenticity of the tape and yet wanting to have a debate about the contents of the tape is not enough. How can one debate a conversation when one is not sure about the recording?

3. Since yesterday morning,  I have been inundated with phone calls from reporters asking for my reaction to the allegations of a woman volunteer for AAP. It was insinuated that Kumar had an  illicit relationship with her. Suddenly a video surfaced in the evening. A Congress leader from earlier days was seen and heard instructing her on what she should say to the press. Some channels dropped the story but others did not bother to examine and take note of the political conspiracy. The woman had not made any allegations of any wrongdoing by Kumar. Yet every channel ran the story with glee that Kumar had an illicit relationship.

4. After Gajendra Singh’s death, a section of the media hinted that Manish Sisodia and Kumar could have some role in his hanging. It was said that he may have been in touch with Manish, and that Kumar was seen behind the dais hatching the conspiracy to have him climb a tree and place a noose around his neck. It was suggested by a few channels that he might have been a  victim of AAP’s strategy to enact a drama to attract the nation’s attention through theatrics, and that the plan unfortunately ended in a tragedy.

I have no hesitation in admitting that AAP has gained tremendous goodwill and political ascendence due to positive media coverage it got earlier. In fact, the anti-corruption movement (Anna’s movement) became a national phenomenon due to non-stop coverage by TV channels.  It was this focus that allowed the movement to turn corruption into a national issue and help change the national discourse; that resulted in a change of the government at the centre. But of late, the climate has changed. Realizing the potential of the political revolution that AAP can foster,  the establishment has roped in a section of media to kill the seed before it germinates into a big tree. I am tempted to say what Graham Green said long ago, “Media is a word that has come to mean bad journalism” but I won’t say that as I believe that I will be disrespecting the  majority of my friends who are pursuing their profession with fierce integrity and for whom journalism is not for sale.

(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014. The former journalist took on former Union minister Kapil Sibal and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in the national election from Chandni Chowk in Delhi.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.


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