MUMBAI: The countdown to the general elections has well and truly begun, what with political parties and their prime ministerial hopefuls engaging in an unending game of one-upmanship.
What is surprising though is that this time round, the fourth estate, otherwise hailed as ‘the watchdog of democracy’, is at the receiving end of this mud-slinging match.
For starters, two years after an Indian Express report about the controversial movement of two army units towards the national capital, General VK Singh, who was the then army chief, opted to call the reporters ‘presstitudes’ while dismissing the article as ‘the fable of a sick mind’.
Then, Arvind ‘Aam Aadmi’ Kejriwal, during his recent speech at Rohtak in Haryana, alleged that Mukesh Ambani had bought some TV channels and newspapers and asked them to give extensive coverage to Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi.
Just the other day, at a Congress function in Solapur, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde threatened “to crush elements in the electronic media spreading false propaganda” although he clarified the very next morning that he was targeting “social media, not journalism”.
And while on the subject of social media, readers will recall how West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, known for her stiff stance on most issues, got a Jadavpur University Chemistry Professor arrested for allegedly circulating ‘anti-Mamata’ cartoons on the Internet in 2012.
The same year, a similar fate befell a small scale industrialist who was arrested for allegedly posting ‘offensive’ messages on social media targeting Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti.
Yes, social media can often be a double-edged sword but what is equally important is that it has given the aam aadmi a voice.
Times Now Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami puts it correctly when he says that the media is variously termed as good or bad depending on whether it praises or bashes politicians. Indeed, politicos trolling media to suit their purpose was the subject of a News Hour debate not so long ago while #Trollingfreemedia had the Twitterati debating the issue endlessly.
So much so, the Editors Guild came out in protest with a statement that read: “Ironically, leaders who built up reputations and support by engaging the public through the media are now turning on the very media when they come under critical scrutiny.”
The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) too issued a press statement saying: “A news channel’s endeavour is to cover news-worthy events across all segments of national and international life and to present news to viewers, which is current and relevant. The media provides a service that is essential for any democratic society. This is particularly important when the most fundamental aspect of a democracy, the elections are round the corner. At such a time, the media plays an indispensable role in enabling citizens to stay well informed and make important choices. There can be no acceptable reason for attacking the media on frivolous, unsubstantiated grounds. Intimidation and preventing the media from performing its duties amounts to interfering with the freedoms enshrined in and guaranteed by the Constitution.”
The NBA specifically appealed to political leaders across parties and public figures not to level baseless charges against the media and keep the discourse civil and sane.
Somehow, now media has become everyone’s punching bag. Nonetheless, journalistic maturity is needed without losing the enthusiasm, energy and insightfulness.