This elections will be remembered for offensive BJP, its PM nominee candidate Narendra Modi, lavish elections spending, Arvind Kejriwal and his party – AAP, non-committal and scattered Congress and the role of media. Media role during the poll campaign was questioned not only by politicians but many voters like me who also felt that news channels have made their preferences and are involved in biased reporting. Even reputed news channel Times Now came in questioning for reporting of Arvind Kejriwal’s Mumbai visit and incident which took place on CST. Then Arnab disappeared for few days from Times Now and came back with bit of rethinking and more balanced reporting.
So with this background when yesterday I was invited to write a on Arnab’s Interview with Narendra Modi,I spontaneously agreed.
On March March 31st 2014 when PM post nominee of BJP, Narendra Modi gave his first interview to ETV, I tweeted @SanjeevRC:
Tweet1: “2day #Arnab appears 2 be in screwed mood or has realised tht ppl r interested in fair scrutiny of #BJP's #narendramodi. #DeshNahiMitneDunga”
Tweet2: “Surprised to see #ETV gets opportunity to interview #narendramodi but chose to ask questions which no journalist wud like to ask. Shocking.’”
Tweet3: “Journalist community must be in mourning today after seeing #ETV interview of #narendramodi. Democracy one Pillar is sold n crumbling.”
Post 31st March, Narendra Modi started giving series of interviews to various channels as per BJP’s planned strategy and purposely avoiding all national news channels. Frankly, all interviews sounded staged and preempted and I found hard to digest any of them. I kept following Narendra Modi’s interviews hoping that someday a Journalist will show courage and will ask tough and right questions to Modi and will cross examine him for frank answers?
If I had to give an award to noisiest TV channel this election, I will surely give it to Times Now. Its noise was a switch off for many loyal viewers like me who started switching channels during The News Hour debates. However, when I saw the promo of Narendra Modi’s Interview on Time Now, I thought finally “Ab Aaya Uunt Pahad Ke Neechey,” and ensured to switch on the TV timely so that I don’t miss any bit of this long awaited interview. But eventually I was disappointed with whole interview and its tone and manner - “Khoda Pahad, Nikla Chooha.”
Narendra Modi’s interview with Arnab came with non-believability as it had nothing like Times Now’s usual spirits – it was calm, Arnab was quiet, Modi spoke for 4-5 minutes uninterrupted and Arnab never interfered, questions appears to be pre-agreed, cross questioning opportunities were let go, Arnab’s sharpness was missing and he never diverted from given directives.
But Arnab’s Modi interview reminded me about interview of Murli Manohar Joshi which was taken by Sumit Awasthi of Zee News on 21st March 2014 where in Sumit Awasthi chose to walk out and refused taking interview as Mr. Joshi wanted to stage the interview and wanted Sumit to be selective with his questions, something which he spontaneously refused to agree. I am sure that this piece of news was missed by elite English speaking class of viewers of this country. Also in the game of one upmanship, no other media channel was interested to talk about this incident and high journalistic values demonstrated by Sumit Awasthi and whole incident went unnoticed. Yes, it’s a different thing that Sumit may get an award for his courageous act but immediate advantage was lost. This was an opportunity when a journalist could have come together and may have sent a signal to political class that they are not fine with staged interviews.
Post Modi’s Interview with Arnab I was left wondering – why this interview? What was the need? Why Times Now was desperate to have Modi’s Interview and at what cost? Media has changed, but have the journalistic values too changed? What’s important?
With hundreds of news channels in India, paid news and interests of media owners are surely going to impact journalistic values of day to day news reporting. But it is the responsibility of journalists (and not media owners) to protect the freedom of press and be true to their viewers, readers and country by large with their authentic reporting and an honest job. I just wish post elections various press federations and associations get together and put up a combined thought on how ‘Freedom of Press’ is protected and how high journalistic values are maintained.
The author is Director, Buchanan Group and Director, Sanjeev Digital LLP