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Are journalists the new votebank that politicians are vying for?

01-September-2016
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Are journalists the new votebank that politicians are vying for?

In poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, about 300 journalists were served a notice by the state government to vacate the sarkaari accommodations they had occupied. Shortly after, a delegation of media persons met Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. The Samajwadi Party (SP) leader immediately pacified journalists and assured subsidised housing for them.

“The idea is to give accommodation to journalists at subsidised rates. The CM has given us 15 days to formalise a scheme in this regard, which is likely to be in the form of flats,” Navneet Sehgal, Principal Secretary, UP Information Department was quoted in The Indian Express.

Not too far in Patna, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav was also batting for a hike in the pay of media persons. He insisted that he was even willing to go to jail for the constitution of a wage revision panel.

“Be ready to even go to jail in course of the agitation for new wage revision panel for mediapersons. I will be with you and will also not hesitate to be with you even in jail,” he proclaimed as reported by The Financial Express.

Considering the forthcoming election season, such overtures of politicians towards journalists cannot be seen without suspicion. After all, polls necessitate the need for cultivating new votebanks.

“I don’t think politicians are looking upon journalists as votebank because they are not many in number but certainly as good publicists who can shape public opinion,” said Hartosh Singh Bal, Political Editor of The Caravan. Bal disapproved of mediapersons availing of government accommodations and subsidized housing.

“One who has gone and asked for favours from Mulayam cannot certainly report against them,” he said. He pointed out that the genesis of such a tradition can be traced back to former HRD Minister Arjun Singh. As Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and later Governor of Punjab, he devised schemes to allot journalists government land.

“If you ask me whether absence of reportage on Vyapam in Madhya Pradesh is related to certain favours being given by the government to journalists then I would say yes,” he added.

The Caravan’s June cover story exhaustively reported on how journalists benefited from two societies based on land leased by the Madhya Pradesh government at an “unthinkably low rate”.  In total, more than 300 journalists were named as members of Abhivyakti Society and Rajdhani Patrakar Society.

On the question of Lalu Prasad Yadav supporting the constitution of a wage revision board for media persons, senior journalist NK Singh opined that there wasn’t anything wrong in it since media persons also included other non-journalist staff and concerned the working class in general.

“Political class getting into the persecution of media is not bad,” he said. But he wondered why the Federation of PTI Employees Union invited RJD chief in the first place. He argued that it reflected the fact that media persons were “attracted to the powers that be”.

Maintaining the need for high credibility, he stated that journalists should never solicit any political support for their cause. Although politicians were free to rake up media issues.

Political parties trying to curry favour from the media is not a new phenomenon. In October 2011, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) patriarch LK Advani embarked on a 40-day Jan Chetna Yatra to raise awareness against black money. Ironically, the campaign began with a press conference in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, where mediapersons were handed out envelopes containing Rs 500-1000 for the sake of favourable coverage.  

“What is the intention behind this move” asked Bhuvnesh Jain, Group Editor, Rajasthan Patrika. Commenting on UP government’s proposed scheme of subsidized housing, he wondered whether it was being extended to journalists on the basis of genuine reasons or as bait.

Rajasthan Patrika itself has been at the receiving end of the BJP government in the state. The newspaper has been starved of central government advertisements due to its criticism of the incumbent Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia.

“Many kings used to support artists, poets and writers so that they could work creatively without worrying about bread, butter and shelter. But nowadays most of the governments do not like independent media and try to manipulate it either by extending personal facilities or by threats,” Jain said. 

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