Morally righteous path that journalists should follow in boycotting the PM

November 06, 2016 03:00 PM
Senior Journalist Saba Naqvi

Wrier: Saba Naqvi
This past week, one did not have to follow media to get the news, but social media to get the news about media! Arnab Goswami quitting from Times Now has inspired a series of articles about him from journalists, sociologists, ordinary citizens who felt compelled to express their opinion about the enfant terrible of the Indian Republic (one of the more clever commentaries was written by a Pakistani journalist). 

NDTV India being instructed to go off air for one day was a serious story that must disturb all of us who are part of the media. There should, in an ideal world, be a collective fight-back from the entire media, but we do not live in an ideal world. The TV industry in particular is notorious for rivalries that are taken to disproportionate levels. 

The TV industry in particular is notorious for rivalries that are taken to disproportionate levels

Still, the Editors Guild has protested and hopefully some of us will keep pointing out the unfairness of the decision. NDTV India's most high profile Hindi anchor, Ravish Kumar, has been quite effective in his commentaries on the current regime. So the same set of people who once swore they would never act like the Congress did during the Emergency, have shown the same inclination to muzzle and bully. Still, I am told that the order against NDTV may not stand legal scrutiny so we will have to wait and see if the government backtracks. But there's another media story that also made little waves in our little fish bowl.  Akshaya Mukul, a senior journalist in the Times of India, heard the call of his own conscience and did not turn up at a ceremony organized by the Indian Express group to take an award from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mukul chose to say so publicly (there were other journalists who quietly did not take their awards from the PM). Mukul was given the award for Gita Press, the best book in recent times by a scribe, so kudos to him for his diligent and original work and his brave personal decision. 

Yet I do take issue with the manner in which the decision has been interpreted by some sections of the media on social media platforms such as facebook and twitter: Mukul's decision as I understood it, is about a personal choice to not take an award from a particular individual, but this has been presented as a morally righteous path that more journalists should follow in boycotting the current PM. 

Sure, that's fine for those who wish to give commentary on politics without ever being part of the action themselves. But in the traditional school of old fashioned political journalism, you boycott no one even if they boycott you. 

There are other points to ponder. First, like him or not, Narendra Modi has been elected through a democratic process and last I heard we have not become a totalitarian state. Second, as far as I know it's the job of a journalist to cover things, individuals and governments, regardless of their personal orientation. Third, if we are in the field of political reporting it is our job to try and get access to those in power, like them or not. Fourth, those who presume to base their journalism based on political reporting, cannot simultaneously live in an ivory tower and pass judgement on those humble souls who go to the party offices of political parties day in and out, to get access to information and individuals. At the same time, I would make a distinction between reporting on a regime and cosying up to it. 

I did wonder about what my late editor, Vinod Mehta of Outlook would have done if asked to preside over a ceremony attended by a prime minister he may not have liked? He would have made it a point to perhaps tell the PM that the role of the media is to criticize governments, just as Raj Kamal Jha, the editor of the Indian Express group, did last week. He would then possibly have written a title tattle gossipy piece about what the PM said to him privately in his dairy piece. Vinod would also have brushed aside any notion of delicacy of sentiment or emotion among his staff and responded with some colorful language such as that's for the bloody activists and you are a damned journalist! 

For 20 years of political reporting, I have been confronted by well meaning people who ask me: how can you bear to cover the BJP? Over time I've become too bored to answer and have responded with facile remarks like 'because it is there". I've also spent some years covering the Congress during their recent decade in power and must confess that professionally, it was just more interesting to cover the BJP. And yes, it's very possible to have long standing contacts in a party that you critique. Off course I never got through to Narendra Modi after the 2002 riots.  I covered all the Gujarat campaigns and repeatedly put in a request for an interview. Never got it as he was boycotting Outlook but that didn't stop me from trying. 


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