Millennium Post

To be a honeybee or a Neelkanth

In Hindu mythology one of the incarnations of Lord Shiva is that of Neelkanth. According to scriptures, Shiva drank halahala (poison) when the gods and demons churned the great ocean in search for amrit (nectar). Drinking poison made Shiva’s throat go blue and he came to be worshipped in that form as Neelkanth Mahadev. Over the years the term ‘Neelkanth’ has come to represent the capability of a person to swallow muck and churn out the best possible result.

Speaking at the platinum jubilee function of a prominent regional newspaper, The Assam Tribune, last weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that journalists should be like a honey bee, and not a housefly. Houseflies, he said, sits on filth and spreads it around, whereas bees are productive and also capable of retorting with a sting when required.

“It would be wrong to say that newspaper only informs us and delivers news. Newspapers shape our perception. There was a time when newspapers used to look for news. Times have changed. Today news look for newspapers,” the PM said. He compared the claims of “sabze tez” (fastest) and “sabze sacchi” (truest) news with those of people selling “pure” desi ghee. “It means something, somewhere is wrong,” he said, further adding that journalism should not spare those who don’t think in the interest of the nation.

Coming from a person who had ascended to the prime minister’s chair riding on a media blitzkrieg, such comments are interesting. I was wondering how the prime minister would categorise the news of him being a Rambo on a mission to rescue the disaster-hit poor residents of Uttarakhand. Was it the work of a honeybee or a house fly? Was it a job well done or a case of house fly spreading dirt?  Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not the first politician to have counselled the media on its functioning. There has been a trend among those leaders whose political campaigns were largely fuelled by the media, have soon found their functioning most inconvenient on occupying political office. Be it the case of Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Arvind Kejriwal or even Narendra Modi, all these gentlemen enjoyed had enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the media. On coming to power, however, they’ve created impediments for the fourth estate, whose duty has always been to report the news, irrespective of how it depicts the establishment.

I am however surprised at the counsel, which was forwarded by the prime minister to media houses so early in his innings. Despite the restrictions, which his government has placed in the coverage of official matters, the media has so far not been just benevolent in its approach but in a few cases even suppliant. Thus far, they have not only bettered the role of the honey bee, but also played the role of a Neelkanth. The coverage received by the present government has largely been about the verbal nectar, which its head have been dispensing across the globe. There has, however, been silence on matters like dipping GDP and unfettered rise in retail prices.

Now let us come to the housefly. Though there is a general perception that they are carrier of disease and cause for much human misery, modern research has shown that the disease causing ability of housefly has over the years been neutralised. On the contrary the housefly’s larva was being used in waste management. In times when the management of waste was becoming one of the most imposing challenges before the world community, the housefly could prove to be a ‘healthy companion’.

The prime minister must realise that interacting with media was an unavoidable “professional hazard” for the government and that those at its helm are not best suited to comment on its functioning. The Indian media, despite undergoing the period of Emergency, where its freedoms were curtailed, has managed to survive and remain vibrant because of the ethos cultivated over the years. It is, however, also true that the media has become a means by which many individuals pursue their political ambitions. The scope for a journalist to play a wheeler-dealer had increased like never before, when the Bharatiya Janata Party first came to power at the Centre. Leaders from the party showed absolute disdain for the cloak of objectivity, which the Indian journalists had worn till then and encouraged their participation in policy making. Whether a venerable Arun Shourie was politics’ gain is debatable ,but his exit was certainly journalism’s loss.   

As I had earlier written, the role of journalists did not remain limited to that of being party ideologues but their active participation was sought in matters of legislative and ministerial business. The six-year reign of Atal Bihari Vajpayee government would indeed get credited for opening floodgates for newspaper editors and reporters to join, as Amitabh Bachchan once famously said, ‘the cesspool of politics.’

This rush to be a legislator and political office bearer came to diminish the long assigned role of a watch dog that media organisations had pursued. The patronising practice of accommodating condescending newspersons has been taken up by other political parties as well. Journalists can indeed play the honey bee provided the political establishment defines honey in greater detail.

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

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