“I shall ask the question and I will not let anyone answer,” quipped Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India, referring to Arnab’s NewsHour debate style, as he began the panel discussion on “Elections 2014 – Were we fair or did we stoke the NaMo Wave?” at Red Ink Awards 2014. He also pointed to I&B Minister present there saying the minister best knows what kind of answers are permissible on a TV channel. Pot-shots aside, Shankar asked Rajdeep Sardesai if the media stoked the Modi wave. Rajdeep said many of us are cynical about journalists thinking they don’t ask the right questions and sometimes don’t allow people to answer questions. But the fact is Narendra Modi ran a fantastic, innovative and sustained campaign in an Indian election ever. He had decided to run a relentless campaign since 2012 and we must give him the credit.
On the other hand, Rajdeep said there was someone who should be doing anything but politics, referring to Rahul Gandhi. Certainly communication is not one of his strong suits; although a well-meaning young man, he is not a politician. 21st century politics is about communication. A case of a natural orator, made for the age of TV as opposed to someone in kindergarten, clearly not a contest. To blame the media for the NaMo wave is unfair, but having said that, Rajdeep remarked how some journalists have abandoned the basics of journalism, either being cheerleaders or being ‘supari journalists’. Rajdeep thought what happened with Arvind Kejriwal was a case of supari journalism.
A certain section of the media is interested in converting prime time news into entertainment, he lamented. Modi has benefited from this and sometimes some channels have elevated him to the position of God. He is a good politician but not a messiah. Crediting Arnab for his Frankly Speaking interview with Modi, Rajdeep commented that only Arnab raised the right questions to Modi. Others need to introspect if they are journalists or hagiographers, he said.
Arnab spoke next, first mentioning to Uday Shankar that he indeed has the potential to be a good anchor. He said that if you ask the question, you must also answer it. “The day you do that, Uday, I’ll retire,” said Arnab. He said he works in a news room in Lower Parel and theirs is the only channel based away from the national capital. The advantage of being in Mumbai as a journalist is that you are not romantically associated with any party; you may have a terrible breakup later. Coming to the Modi wave, he said he doesn’t care about what politicians think and his distance is physical and psychological. In India we are overawed and influenced by politicians. He said he wasn’t cynical but very optimistic about the future of journalism. Modi had nothing to do with all the investigative and insightful breaking news stories by journalists. He was just an interesting character in a very unipolar election. The emphasis was great on him due to lack of competition in the election. He addressed all the independent thinking journalists saying they shouldn’t worry as they are not dependent on a political figure. Modi is not the only way to get ratings, these are facetious thoughts. Part of the problem is that being based out of Delhi, journalists get too close to the political parties.
Shankar agreed with Arnab about the bright future of journalism, doing something very central to the society. The country would be worse off without media.
Kumar Ketkar, Chief Editor, Dainik Divya Marathi said that Congress and media both stoked the Modi wave. Without media, Modi wave would not have come. Initially there was only Gujarat model, but did media ever cover Gujarat in detail to check if Gujarat is as progressive as showcased. Media covered miserable state of Bihar, but did it cover the floods in Gujarat, Ketkar asked. He emphasised that Modi was pampered by the media.
Referring to Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and Creative Director, South Asia - Ogilvy & Mather, as the brand genius of our generation, Shankar asked Piyush Pandey his opinion from a brand point of view. Pandey said it was a very interesting situation of post mortem after the match is over. At the end of the day, Modi didn’t give you a chance to ignore him. No one could have ignored him, whether people went overboard or not. We rode the wave, we did not create it, he said.
There is lack of good journalism in the wake of masala journalism. What the anchor says matters more than the truth. Are journalists simply arrogant? These were some of the views the panel members expertly raised at the discussion.
You can watch the exclusive panel discussion video here: