Millennium Post

Kejriwal serves just desserts

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal has been able to stir media extra-ordinarily. While on the one hand he has threatened to put media persons critical of him behind the bars, on the other he has also fielded journalists by plenty as his party candidate for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. Some of the exposes by his political rivals have shown that he has a band of ‘embedded’ journalists working to perk-up his ‘revolutionary image’.

Now let’s first understand what’s an embedded journalist? The term came into vogue during the invasion of Iraq by the United States of America in 2003. As already reported, in March 2003 over 750 mediapersons travelled to Iraq as embedded journalists with the American units. The travel had followed training of these reporters and photographers with the army units. The idea of having embedded journalists on board was to dominate the information warfare during Iraq invasion.

The strategists within the AAP, without doubt, have borrowed the idea from Iraqi invasion to dominate the political conflict zone here in India. In these very columns a few months back your reporter had mentioned in the context of Delhi Vidhan Sabha polls that ‘Arvind Kejriwal and his party should get an award for the communication and the public relations skills. The whole campaign of the Aam Aadmi Party has been a carefully crafted drive to effectively communicate with people through various forums and tools and neutralise the political adversary through sheer use of appropriate words and symbols.’

These observations now look naive. There were more than just ‘honest attempts’ at communication and public relations, which went to build a positive perception about the party in public estimate. The development of the past few days clearly point out that Kejriwal had deployed a team of embedded editors and anchors especially in television media to run an effective propaganda machinery on his behalf.

The shining examples of embedded journalist are Ashutosh (formerly of IBN7), Punya Prasoon Vajpayee (AajTak) and Ashish Khetan ( Before I move ahead, I must make a point about certain other editors-owners, who too support and own allegiance to political parties like the BJP and the CPM respectively. However, it’s to their credit that they make full disclosure of their leaning and the scope to cheat the reader in name of neutrality is much lesser.

Unlike them, Ashutosh, Vajpayee and Khetan, in the garb of neutrality and professional honesty, pushed the agenda of a political thought most unabashedly and unethically. It’s to the discredit of the media house owners that in their selfish search of vital ratings seldom bothered to check on the credential of their editors and their reportage.

Embedded journalism was practised most unabashedly during the 49-day regime of Arvind Kejriwal as chief minister of Delhi. During his frequent press conferences, Kejriwal’s media advisor, himself an embedded journalist, ensured that only such reporters were allowed to ask questions who were protégés of these embedded editors. For the two decades that Delhi assembly has been in existence, allowing questions was always the prerogative of the chief minister and his or her media
advisor never shared the dais.

It’s important here to understand the difference between proximity to political figures and acting as their hatchet persons. Your reporter too enjoyed unbridled access to a former Delhi chief minister but he was not the only one. The government nominated your reporter to the governing bodies of several Delhi University colleges, so were others people from different social walks of life. These nominations were honourary in nature with no financial powers whatsoever.

The access to the political fountainhead never hampered either the functioning of the newspaper or that of the college. Rather the nomination of professionals allowed and ensured the much needed autonomy to the governing bodies necessary to counter the influence of the local MLA or councillor. Incidentally all the while I was nominated by the Congress government, I worked for a paper headed by a BJP member of parliament.

Journalists for ages have enjoyed accessibility and friendship of politicians but it has not deterred them for posing uncomfortable question. The political class in India with a few exceptions here and there have too believed in Kabir’s saying, Nindak niyare rakhiye, Angan kuti chawai, Bin pani sabun bina, nirmal kare subhaiy, meaning keep your critic close to you, rather give him a shed in the courtyard of your house; his proximity cleanses your nature without soap and water.

In fact this attitude reflects largely the Indian democracy’s character of allowing different voices, ideas and thoughts to prevail. This is the first time that one is getting to hear a political leader threatening media houses and journalists of dire consequences if it tried to indulge in criticism.

This brings us to the larger question that why then are the legacies and traditions of the Indian democracy being outraged by an outfit which otherwise swears in the name of democratic functioning. We must realise that when Kejriwal criticises media, he does so with the knowledge that there is some antagonism within the public towards the media. Why media has come to be seen as an adversary than a counsellor, is the question which should bother us all.

For the precious ratings, the media houses played up an agitation which had no social or ideological moorings. They repeatedly in their programmes went onto to criminally make Kejriwal ‘outshine’ the contribution of the likes of Jaya Prakash Narayan and even Mahatma Gandhi. Creating a hype over a political trivia has today put media in a very uncomfortable corner, where it has to fight for its credibility. Kejriwal has served them the just desserts.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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