Politics is definitely the flavour of this summer season, and reflecting the national mood is none other than the media. This does not refer to the incessant coverage of the political parties and their moves ahead of the LokSabha polls. Blurring the lines are well-known mediapersons, who are lining up in large numbers to switch from journalism to politics.
Indian politics, in fact, never seemed so media-friendly in terms of the latter seeing it as a full-time profession. Today, a shoe-chucker, an investigative reporter whose exposés even got BJP PM-aspirant NarendraModi hot and bothered, a journalist who walked into the Tigers’ den at the height of the Sri Lanka insurgency, a popular TV anchor, are all in the political fray. From being staunch adversaries to political bedfellows, Elections 2014 is seeing a steady trickle of journalists taking the plunge, so to speak.
The latest to join the bandwagon is senior journalist and author MJ Akbar, who was indicted into the BharatiyaJanata Party on Saturday. Incidentally, Akbar, who was a Congress MP from Kishanganj in Bihar between 1989 and 1991, was also the Congress party spokesperson in 1989, ahead of the LokSabha polls. He will now be the BJP spokesperson.
He said that he has returned to politics for its policies and work to bring the nation back into a “recovery mission”. “The crisis in front of the country is known to all. This is an opportunity to do whatever little we can do for our country,” he said after joining the party.
The sudden surge of journalists leaving their cushioned jobs to join politics can be credited largely to the rise of the AamAadmi Party (AAP) and its leader ArvindKejriwal, who has inspired people to work for change. It was the media which hailed Kejriwal as the messiah of the masses after his popular anti-corruption rally in Delhi with Anna Hazare. The movement itself saw many journalists openly declaring their leanings than be a closet supporter of a cause.
There is also a twist in the tale. With the AAP gaining immense nation-wide popularity, many old faces of the BJP and the Congress are leaving their parties to go with the AAP upsurge. This party hopping has become common for political aspirants in pursuit of their ambition. But it has also been fanned by the media, who has been riding high on AAP wave.
The anti-corruption movement itself saw media personalities such as Manish Sisodia and ShaziaIlmi switching from journalism to the AAP. This was followed by Rakhi Birla, whose act as Delhi Minister earned her many accolades. While Sisodia and Birla were ministers in the AAP government in Delhi, Ilmi was a member of the AAP national executive. After its massive win in Delhi, the AAP became the journalists’ favourite. This was evident with well-known news reader Ashutosh and then AashishKhetan, who is known as a Snoopgate man for his series of exposes against Modi, joining the party. They are all set to fight the national polls now.
MukulTripathi is another journalist who has joined AAP. He is popularly known as the Farrukhabad sting operator. He will now take on Salman Khurshid in the LS polls. The Amar Ujala reporter, who has several exposes to his credit, says he’s always been an activist-journalist. He says Kejriwal’s call asking the common man to conduct sting operations struck a chord with him. As it did with ManoromGogoi, who will be contesting from Jorhat in Assam. The print journalist from Assam Pratidin says both journalism and politics, if conducted objectively, are social service.
There are others like SucharitaMohanty, a former print journalist who will be fighting on a Congress ticket from Puri, Orissa. Coming from a political family, she perhaps found the switch easy. “I have had obvious interest in public affairs. At this stage of my life, I decided to directly contribute by joining politics, which is an instrument of change.”
It is not as if this path has not been trod on earlier. ShrikantVerma, Udayan Sharma, Seema Mustafa, Rajeev Shukla, ChandanMitra (a RajyaSabha MP and now contesting LS for the first time), the list is long. Not just the AamAadmi Party, the Congress, the BJP and even the RJD are offering tickets to journalists. Some of the names mentioned lost while others still swam with the tide.
One many wonder what is attracting the journalists to leave their first vocation for politics. While some say it is the lure of power, what tides with the present national mood is the fact that the citizens are disappointed with the present day politics. Most of these journalists are joining politics on the promise to push forward a social agenda.
But for journalism itself, it raises two important issues: one, is it ethical for a journalist to continue reporting on political developments despite an obvious leaning; and two, shouldn’t the management have set up a framework to ensure that their channel reports in a free, fair and unbiased manner. After all, that ought to be the basic tenet of journalism. It is also important to ponder on how the “newspaper space” or “air time” on TV screens is being used for political gains by various actors and thus, the issue of “conflict of interest” needs to be addressed.
Almost all journalists who are joining politics must answer these two questions. Ashutosh’s case is particularly important, because as the Editorial Head of a channel, despite his known leanings towards a party, he continued in a role that would have influenced the channel’s news content in favour of a party. It opens up a fresh debate on the practice of ethics in journalism. Perhaps, this will push all channels and senior editors holistically review journalists and editors on their rolls for political bias.
However, what happens when their roles get mixed up? Is journalism compromised? In today’s times, people are heavily dependent on news channels to give them a frank, free from fear, and fair analysis of political developments for them to be able to make informed choices. Thus, the need to be neutral, unbiased and apolitical reporting becomes critical for our democratic health. It is important for journalism to not only be neutral, but also look neutral to be credible. Journalism is essentially about trust. Once that is lost, there is nothing left except propaganda.
With one of the most crucial elections coming up, it is for the media to ensure that the Indian democracy remains healthy in these testing times. However, no one will even deny the urgency of social and economic reforms. Only, it needs to be pursued diligently.