New Delhi: The primary job of journalists as the Fourth Estate of a democracy is to ask tough questions to powers-that-be and in order to do so it is essential that they maintain some distance from the latter (duh).
The logic is simple: if we made friends with those we are supposed to question, we would not be able to perform our foremost duty of holding them accountable. Or so we are taught in journalism schools.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi organized a Diwali Milan function for mediapersons on Saturday at the BJP Headquarters wherein the journalists could be seen jostling and vying with each other to take selfies with the former. The pictures quickly went viral on social media, especially on Twitter, where people began raising questions on the lowering standards and ethics of Indian media.
This is the media we expect will ask tough questions of this government? Great visuals of an undignified selfie circus!!!
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) November 28, 2015
Our intellectuals were so darn right. This hostile media led to BJP's defeat in Bihar
— Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) November 28, 2015
— Shikha Chaudhary (@Shikha____) November 28, 2015
The Telegraph tells it like it is. Again. pic.twitter.com/0NSQMzDDWM
— Ankur Bhardwaj (@Bhayankur) November 29, 2015
Senior journalist Nihal Singh while speaking with NewsGram took a dim view of the bonhomie and mob mentality displayed by Modi and the journalists at the BJP Headquarters.
“I think it’s funny and at the same time shameful too. If students indulge in such things, it’s understandable. But not for journalists who are supposed to perform the important task of holding the elected representatives accountable to the people of India,” Singh said.
The fact that there was no question and answer session showed that Modi wanted a controlled environment and one-way communication. This is how he is, the senior journalist added.
“I have read books written about Modi and the best was one written by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay that is ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. At a certain stage when the author came close to know the real Modi, the latter cut him off completely.”
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay seems to concur with Singh. NewsGram spoke to the Modi biographer to understand his perspective on the issue.
“There are two kinds of journalists in India: those who take selfies and those who don’t. The lure and fascination for power and inclination to flaunt one’s political connections is stronger in the former. Modi is only obliging such journalists; he is more than happy with a one-way dialogue process. Yet I feel Modi’s romance with the media seems to be almost over if we compare this event with last year’s ‘Diwali Milan’. The enthusiasm was lacking,” Mukhopadhyay said.
Prabhakar Kumar, head of the CMS Media Lab, told NewsGram that such instances make it tough for the journalists to do their real job i.e. asking questions.
“They ought to maintain some distance. Journalists these days wish to flaunt their closeness to ministers and thus their value and worth. Nira Radia case is an apt example in this regard. In a way, we could say that media is not a mirror of the society anymore and this is not good for democracy.
“For instance, in London BBC reporters asked him tough questions like on the ‘growing intolerance’ in the country. Can Indian journalists question him in this regard? It is a pity that he is open to questions in a foreign land, not in India. This is how Modi operates. Even during 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he strategically gave interviews to selected journalists and media houses. He’s the one who chooses and journalists are only obliging him.”
Many senior journalists NewsGram spoke to were of the opinion that ‘Diwali Milan’ reflected poorly on the Indian media.
Shemin Joy, Principal Correspondent with Deccan Herald, said that taking pictures with dignitaries and ministers was fine, but the manner in which it was done spoke volumes about the journalists present there.
“It’s like they were crazy about taking selfies with Modi. The mob mentality of the journalists is the issue. They forget that it’s always their prestige that is at stake, for it reflects poorly on them. Even with Manmohan Singh, my answer would have been the same. In a way, Modi is showing a mirror to media and telling the journalists that ‘this (selfie) is what you deserve and you should be satisfied with it. No need to ask questions.’
“This is happening because of the lowering standards of Indian media. That elegance which used be there once seems to be missing now. It’s no surprise that ‘Presstitude’, an objectionable term, is now associated with the Indian media. Verily, we’re ourselves responsible for our plight.”