This should come as no surprise, because after the WA leaks, except for one rival channel, that too after a delay, no other media took on the two leaders and Arnab.
It is easy to roll up one’s sleeves and in a loud voice, rudely demand the Chief Minister of Maharashtra and the spokesperson of the Shiv Sena party answer the anchor on Republic channel. A street fight kinda drama on a daily basis with specific targets is what we have been seeing, wherein people’s personal information, private lives and other information have been shamelessly revealed. Now, one can imagine the Maha Vikas Aghadi leaders perhaps quietly sharing a laugh. They have powered the weapon of the Bharatiya Janata Party – social media – which has taken the latter by surprise.
Till now the Sena party was being accused of hounding Arnab Goswami, owner and editor-in-chief of the Republic Media Group. Even a jilted lover would have behaved better than the BJP government, which has not yet got over the smart ditch the Sena gave them after the Maharashtra assembly polls. The two big leaders of the BJP-led Union government have used various investigating agencies to summon many leaders in the MVA government. End result — all key players stand exposed in the WhatsApp leaks –primarily, Arnab Goswami, Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Officials leaks, a habit
When these WA leaks were circulated, my eyes scanned the end of the page, as I read the keywords, ‘aaropi chi sahi, samaksha’ and ‘panch’. I’m unapologetic to say a smile was unstoppable, as things fell in place. It must be said, many a senior journalist who put in their two bits regarding the safety of WA and how one should be guarded about what is shared, missed the point entirely — you needn’t be scared if you have not have taken any handouts directly from any political party or leaders. But had that been the case, the state of the Indian media would have been completely different.
One big lesson to young, budding reporters is that they need to remain true to the principles of journalism. Else when you walk into the studio saying you have got ‘pishwiful’ of evidences, you have walked into a trap that has been laid bare, but you are too blind to notice it. Then the nation knows who has leaked WA chats and messages in a suicide case, which every channel gleefully revealed. Sadly, the entire Indian media lies exposed there. Now, this trend which all channels forced their reporters to indulge in, getting leaks from officers of various agencies, has actually impacted important cases and the investigations therein, like the Sheena Bora and Neeraj Grover murder cases.
One big takeaway from this episode is how this male journalist speaks of his contemporaries and rivals, encouraged by politicians. Wanting to be ahead at any cost, is an individual prerogative, but to encourage loose gossip and name-calling of journalists, especially females, is something that should be censured. Also, when politicians make personal remarks, the fraternity needs to put them down immediately. But then who can do it? Years ago, at a press conference of Nitin Gadkari, who was in the opposition in Maharashtra, had held a press conference to expose some scam of Congress leaders. At that press conference, I had asked him a question regarding the investigations against his son who was getting married in a few weeks’ time. He was ticked off by my question and taunted me, saying maybe I had been personally tipped. I dug in my heels and pointed out he hadn’t answered my question and there was no need to get personal. I was pleasantly surprised that many male colleagues stood up for me and said he should answer my question instead of getting personal, which meant he was hiding something. The interview was being aired live and I am glad the entire political fraternity witnessed it. The tendency to attack at a personal level does mean the journalist has been professional, which has ticked off the person concerned. In this case too, the entire nation has witnessed Motabhai calling a female journalist ‘kachra’ and the male editor and owner unable to stand up for his colleague/rival. While it was later revealed that Amit Shah did not call Navika as “Kachra” but referred to her questions as one, Goswami instead of standing up for fellow colleague seems to be endorsing the usage of the word.
This deterioration is on two levels – personal, that one has no spine to speak up and the other, of the sector on the whole. Both are equally worrisome since one has taken favours from the leaders, they cannot stand their own ground and worse still, point out to the leader.
Distrust of media
A rather grave concern is that the fourth pillar of the largest democracy has deteriorated and disintegrated systematically. A journalist had been tipped in advance about the Balakot attack. A whole new anti-Pakistan narrative was created and how much this BJP-led government cared for the soldiers. In fact, the bhakts refused to believe even once that PM Modi was aware of the attack on February 14 and was away at the Jim Corbett National Park for Discovery channel’s Man Vs Wild show. There already is a huge trust factor the public has, with regard to the media. Now, no word, written, or worse, television channels are taken seriously, as citizens have begun calling the media all sorts of names. Worse still, the ones to generate fake news are these very politicians and their cronies in media who perpetuate the lies. However, what I cannot understand is, how the public refuses to accept this fact. WA leaks clearly show the PMO and Motabhai are directly in touch with Arnab and they have tipped him off, and this obviously cannot be without the consent of the PM. This is a huge breach of our security and for once, there is a case against a journalist. Instead, two Manipuri journalists were booked under UAPA and sedition. They had written criticising the militancy in the state.
The co-opting of media by the politicians and agencies has been done systematically. Citizens today doubt the veracity of journalism and can we really blame them? The exchange between the former CEO of Broadcast Audience Research Council and Arnab shows how they have called rival journalists names, saying they live on handouts from politicians. While here, the man is seen to be the voice of the government. Citizens first trust information from people known to them, more than primary sources of information, that is the mass media. This is followed by newspapers and magazines. But surveys are very common in Indian media, as is the selectivity in publishing news. Any negative news is rarely highlighted, like the World Economic Forum survey, published over four years ago, wherein 28 countries were surveyed and 17 countries said they expressed mistrust in Indian media. The report said there has been a ‘global implosion of trust’. This should come as no surprise, because after the WA leaks, except for one rival channel, that too after a delay, no other media took on the two leaders and Arnab. There has been much amusement rather than outrage and the demand to try these people in the courts. But then again, which courts are we speaking of? Considering the increasing amount of distrust in our apex court, since other courts are even worse, there are no options left for the public to demand accountability and the acknowledgement of the security breach.
Along with this distrust is the entire gameplay of the TRP ratings, which is the root cause of the television channel war. It is not a new phenomenon and prime time television rankings world over is manipulated and dominated by males and carry a lot of political weight. In the last six years, this TRP war has escalated in India, with a simultaneous deterioration of news coverage. Holbert says, “From a democratic perspective, a key function of news media is to aid citizens in becoming informed.” In order to achieve this goal, they have to provide the citizens with the sort of information which equips them to be free and self-governing. We are far from this.
Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 30 years of work experience across different media platforms. She is currently a freelancer and media consultant.
(Views Expressed Are Personal)
As an independent media platform, we do not take advertisements from governments and corporate houses. It is you, our readers, who have supported us on our journey to do honest and unbiased journalism. Please contribute, so that we can continue to do the same in future.