Millennium Post

The media we don’t see

A fortnight before the Delhi assembly polls, an editor of a leading Hindi News Channel, India TV’s Rajat Sharma, concluded his prime time bulletin with an air of undignified judgment. He called Arvind Kejriwal an ‘anarchist’, who does not have the requisite “manners for public discourse”.

“Why would Kiran Bedi accept an offer for debate by an anarchist?” asked Sharma. Meanwhile, another senior journalist from another Hindi news channel grilled an Aam Aadmi Party representative at her prime time show, as if the person was an anti-national element. She bluntly told him, “aap to bhagode hain hi (You are a deserter)”.  Besides, channels owned by Mukesh Ambani have adopted a strategy of blacking out the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP. In fact a channel owned by the business tycoon had thrown out an employee, who had raised his voice against the alleged bias in poll coverage.

At a time when India boasts of being the world’s largest democracy, the media’s bias in election coverage paints a rather sordid picture. Just two days before Delhi goes to elect its government, Zee News, owned by a known Bharatiya Janata Party sympathiser Subhash Chandra, aired Arvind Kejriwal first interview with senior editor Sudhir Chaudhary. Surprisingly Sudhir talked to Kejriwal as if he was talking to some nondescript AAP worker. Chaudhary was seen putting his hands on Arvind’s shoulders, while asking questions with clear prejudice. “Your dramebaaz (drama king) image is world-known now, but what about your cough?” Chaudhary asked. “Are you seriously suffering with cough or is it another gimmick to garner people’s sympathies?”

“The same Sudhir Chaudhary had interviewed BJP chief Amit Shah a day after Kejriwal’s interview, where his body language told a different story,” said a media person closely examining Delhi poll coverage. “He does not touch Shah. Besides, the anchor addresses the BJP chief as ‘Shah Ji’, not Amit Shah or Amit.” The bias shown by Zee News in its poll predictions was also clear for all to see. The entire coverage has been pro-BJP since the Lok Sabha elections, when Chandra was seen sharing a stage with the BJP in one of its poll rallies in Haryana.

Similarly, Aaj Tak anchor Anjana Om Kashyap shouts over AAP leader Ashish Khaitan, “Aapki Aukat kya hai” (Who do you think you are), during a show when the party leader was clarifying Kejriwal’s anarchist remark. “Mahatma Gandhi was also an anarchist during British rule, but news channels like those of today were not there to cover it,” said Khaitan. She is the same anchor, whose picture with BJP leaders had gone viral on social network. In the picture Om Kashyap was seen making a victory sign, while standing with some BJP workers. Though the authenticity of the picture is yet to established, her pro-BJP stance has irked several media critics.

India TV chief Rajat Sharma’s pro-BJP approach was also evident after Modi gave his first interview to Rajat’s show Aap ki Adalat, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. His anointment as the president of the News Broadcasters’ Association (NBA) and his nomination for the 2015 Padma Bhushan award presents a clear picture about the proximity that exists between Sharma and the ruling party.  

“Each media house may have its inclination toward a particular party, ideology or philosophy and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a senior journalist and fellow with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “But their inclination should never be reflected in their news coverage, selection of news and over-coverage or black out of some political entity. Advocating something or someone is not bad until it is communicated in a balanced way.”

“Any media house may have an editorial line,” said Pankaj Srivastva, advocating the same journalistic principle. “When it comes to discussion of an issue, however, representatives from all parties must be given a platform. But in IBN7 (Network 18’s Hindi news channel), it was a diktat that no AAP face must come on screen for the right reasons. And the situation grew worse. One day an AAP spokesman was sent back from the office gate and many reporters were reprimanded for interviewing AAP leaders.” Pankaj Srivastva (Associate Editor) was recently fired with immediate effect, when he raised his voice against blacking AAP out from the channel.

Interestingly, Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyaya’s brother is one of the senior most editors in the Network 18 group. “We must understand how much proximity most media houses share with the ruling parties,” said Anil Chamadia, a senior freelance journalist and media critic. “Who among the journalists are being awarded with the Padma Bhushan and the timing of such announcements? They are the ones who have played crucial role in propagating BJP’s agenda during Lok Sabha polls.”

Having seen the BJP at the Centre, many in the media have become pro-government and it’s clearly
reflected in their selection of news. With the Congress supposedly out of the competition, BJP and AAP have the limelight. But the way our media have adopted a prejudiced stance in their news coverage does cause a sense of alarm. “When Arvind Kejriwal came up with charges against Delhi BJP chief Satish Upadhyay over his alleged bond with Power Discoms and ownership of a company that manufactured electricity meters, no major news channel aired the press conference live,” said a media insider working with Aaj Tak. “Upadhyay’s rebuttal, however, was aired live. The Delhi BJP president threatened to sue Kejriwal over false charges. How is such a move justified? The one who is making grievous charges is not being shown live, but the rebuttal is being aired live.” 

The insider with Aaj Tak also said that the media can make an ordinary poll remark sound suspicious by adding beeps to it. “Kumar Vishwas’s veiled attack over Kiran Bedi had nothing derogatory or lewd,” he added. “But our channel aired it by using beeps and attempted to convey that Kumar had said something lewd.”     

The media has changed its stance several times during the Delhi poll campaign. Different media outlets have predicted differently, “With their clear bias of putting BJP ahead”, as another media critic, scholar and author of Media aur Mandi, Vineet Kumar says. “Majority of media organisations in India are fully or partially financed by business conglomerates. These outlets will serve the interests of their financiers and at this point most of them are inclined towards the BJP. I think media channels are making things easier for the viewers to decide. Their questions are answered rather blatantly when one sees Zee News owner Subhash Chandra urging people to vote for the BJP in Haryana during Lok Sabha elections and an India TV van waving BJP flags,” he said.

The media and politicians have an unbreakable bond. This was evident when Lokmat Samachar, a leading news daily in Maharashtra, went to its advertisers with a recommendation letter from a state minister. “He himself had appealed on his letterhead asking for advertisements to the paper,” said Kumar. “Similarly, Arvind Kejriwal got ‘Citizen of the Year’ award from NDTV and CNN IBN, and enjoyed full media coverage at one time. But now he’s been blacked out by Ambani-owned news networks and Kejriwal has cried foul over it. So both take benefits from each other.”

On the day of polling, after sensing that AAP may secure a majority to form the government in Delhi, several news channels, news prints and websites have initiated a balanced coverage. Despite scathing attacks on AAP and mild support to the BJP, Network 18’s website Firstpost predicted landslide victory for AAP and also questioned the source of BJP’s funds that amounted to Rs 953 crore. Similarly, Zee News also interviewed Kejriwal for the first time this poll season and claimed that its reporting is ‘objective’. Some others are also predicting a victory for AAP just to earn ‘credibility’ in its reporting. “Our media industry is already in a mess and if they keep working like this we are heading towards a bigger mess,” said Madhu Trehan, a senior journalist and the face of news website Newslaundry. “Viewers or readers are much smarter now. The time is near when such channels and news anchors will be dismissed,” she added.
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