Worse, is the character of the questions. Not only are awkward issues avoided but the questions are emolliently phrased and gently asked. Instead of bringing up his lapses or misjudgements, the Prime Minister is usually asked to hold forth on the Opposition’s alleged errors. Rarely is he questioned about things that have gone wrong under his charge. The net result is the interview lacks rigour. It feels like an easy ride.
Even during the recent elections, when there was a moral duty to treat Opposition and government alike, we had, instead, undeniable favouritism. Rajdeep illustrates this with reference to Rajat Sharma’s interview of Mr Modi but he could just as easily have used his own channel’s. What he says of the former applies equally to the latter: “It wasn’t just a news show: This was a theatrical performance being enacted against the backdrop of a decisive election.”
He writes television news created “a ‘mahaul’ (ambience) in which Modi was seemingly invincible and the Opposition cripplingly inept.” I would go further. Instead of watchdogs that should growl at the authorities, even if occasionally mistakenly, most of our television news channel behaved like guard dogs, who seek to protect, or pet dogs, who just wish to be liked.
Compare the way the British media treated Boris Johnson with our treatment of Narendra Modi.
When Johnson refused to participate in a Channel 4 debate, it kept an empty chair with a melting ice statue resting on it. When Johnson refused to give BBC’s Andrew Niel an interview the Corporation circulated a WhatsApp meme pointing this out.
In contrast, this is what Rajdeep writes of our media’s behaviour last year: “I have never quite seen an Indian election where the mainstream media narrative, with rare exceptions, was so blatantly and horribly one-sided.”
Now we’ve even reached the point where editors unilaterally edit opinion
pieces though they’re published under the authors name with a clear warning they don’t reflect the newspaper’s views. If the adjectives used to criticise the government are stinging, they’re toned down. If a fact is cited that shows the Prime Minister in poor light, it’s deleted. So great is the fear of governmental wrath columns
are diluted to make them acceptable. And this is how the media defends freedom of speech!
I agree with Rajdeep’s conclusion though I would have put it more forcefully: “The space for a free and independent media that offers democracy its much-needed oxygen is rapidly shrinking.” Unfortunately, Rajdeep doesn’t ask and, therefore, doesn’t answer the question why has this happened? Is it fear of retribution? Are editors enamoured of Mr Modi? Or are proprietors to blame?
Sadly, 2020 doesn’t hold out the prospect of credible change. The Indian media
has forgotten how to thunder and roar. We’ve become pussy cats who prefer to curl up beside a warm fire. So I wonder how many will heed Rajdeep’s warning: “We certainly need to rediscover a spine or else be pushed into growing irrelevance”?