Media’s Chosen Victims

Coomi Kapoor | BLOG BYTES<br>TV personality Karan Thapar,known for his hard-hitting interviews,did a role-reversal at the end of the year. He asked one of the guests on his show,Arun Jaitley,to interview him.

Written by Coomi Kapoor | Published:January 22, 2009 1:40 pm

Coomi Kapoor | BLOG BYTES

TV personality Karan Thapar,known for his hard-hitting interviews,did a role-reversal at the end of the year. He asked one of the guests on his show,Arun Jaitley,to interview him. Jaitley was polite,but his questions were pointed. One of the queries,I thought,really hit home. Why was Thapar so harsh with Indian politicians and so deferential towards Pakistani personalities?

It is a charge which can be leveled not just against Thapar but all of us in the media. And I include myself among the guilty. We journalists select carefully whom to make a punching bag and whom to handle with kid gloves.

Take for instance the way journalists generally appear overwhelmed when granted an audience with a member of the Gandhi family. They adopt a reverential—almost fawning—tone. I recall when Rahul Gandhi made his debut in Indian politics,hardened veterans on the political beat returned from the Amethi constituency star-struck by the cute,clever,committed,computer-savvy Gandhi scion. Naturally no embarrassing questions about the family firm were raised.

Some journalists who want to establish their secular credentials believe that the best way to do so is to cross question politicians from the BJP or VHP in a manner which is not just rude,but almost offensive. Strangely,the same lot of scribes can be as protective as a mother hen towards politicians claiming to represent deprived sections of society or minorities. At press conferences,they can even pounce on newspersons who pose provocative questions. Sometimes they interrupt and answer on behalf of their favourite politicians.

Double standards in the media are visible on many fronts. If Deve Gowda as Prime Minister snoozed at a meeting,then all the cameras focused on him. When other,more sophisticated,Prime Ministers dozed off,it was made out that they were in deep contemplation. Shivraj Patil is the butt of many media jokes,but most would hesitate to be less than complimentary about P Chidambaram. Mamata Banerjee and Uma Bharati are fair game,but few want to ruffle Prakash Karat.

Last year on her birthday,Mayawati flew down to Delhi and held a press conference at the ballroom of a five-star hotel. The Capital’s scribes waited for more than half an hour before the UP chief minister walked in imperiously followed by a long train of her relatives,the kith and kin of her close aide S C Mishra and a string of officials from Lucknow. The Delhi media watched patiently for another 15 minutes as Mayawati,dripping diamonds,was garlanded by various persons from her retinue,whose names were duly announced. No one objected to this circus. Later at the press conference no one put any hard hitting questions to UP’s czarina,who simply delivered a lecture on her schemes for the state.

In contrast,I can recall many a press conference where journalists haughtily threatened to walk out if they were kept waiting for more than ten minutes. The late arriving politician had to literally beg and plead for forgiveness. Many a time politicians passing around press handouts about development work have been told bluntly by the media that the handouts will be thrown in the dustbin,they want only hard news.

The tendency to treat people differently is due partly to our personal predilections. But there is also a human weakness to pick on the weak and avoid taking on a bully. A personality who has the clout to retaliate or can cut you off from news sources and blacklist you from future interviews is not someone whose feathers you like to ruffle. It is a truth universally acknowledged in the media that it is hara-kiri to bite the hand that feeds you stories. Correspondents covering the Ministry of External Affairs avoid antagonizing the mandarins of South Block,defence correspondents are wary of upsetting the chiefs of the Armed Forces and crime reporters don’t question the fishy detective work of those supplying them with scoops on their so-called investigations.

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