Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
Media's discord of conduct

Media's discord of conduct

Author: Tavleen Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: November 30, 2003
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/full_story.php?content_id=36313

Not long ago I happened to be on a flight with BJP President Venakaiah Naidu. He was returning from Jodhpur after campaigning for Vasundhara Raje and because the flight was a longish one we got talking about this and that and during the course of the conversation he mentioned that Sonia Gandhi treated the press with the contempt that it deserved. I cannot remember his exact words but basically the point he made was that here was a major political leader who refused to give interviews, refused to answer questions, refused even to meet journalists and yet she was revered by the media while the BJP despite being media-friendly to the point of bending over backwards was usually reviled. I dismissed his comments at the time but a couple of things have of late made me remember them. Having closely watched the manner in which we of the fourth estate dealt with the three leading ladies of this set of assembly elections I am forced to admit that there could be some truth in the BJP's constant complaint that the media is biased.

The three leading ladies, in my view, were Sonia Gandhi, Vasundhara Raje and Uma Bharti. And, it is interesting to observe how differently they were treated. We who come from the plebian world of hackdom have a natural aversion to princes and princesses so Vasundhara Raje was sneered at openly for things that should be in the realm of her private rather than public life. Her chiffon saris evoked critical comment, as did her angrezi-speaking and in the most insidious way several newspaper articles spoke of her having the disadvantage of being an ''outsider'' in Rajasthan. She rose to this one, pointing out that Madhya Pradesh was a lot closer to Rajasthan than Italy but the outsider charge continued to be hurled around.

Uma Bharti fared not much better. Us hacks are liberal and leftist by nature so she has been a figure of hate since the days when the Babri Masjid was demolished. Whether she actually said ek dhaka aur do or not it became accepted wisdom that she did and, in any case, everyone saw the grin on her face as she hugged Murli Manohar Joshi.

Inevitably, when it was announced that she would be the BJP candidate for Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh she came under instant attack. She was sneered at for being a sanyasin, for being a novice, for her religious beliefs and just about everything else. Memories of the Babri Masjid demolition have been routinely evoked and even though she raised some solid issues during the campaign she was generally treated with disdain and portrayed as being on the fringe of religious lunacy.

Fine. Us hacks we like to be sneery and disdainful and if we had kept the same tone with Sonia there would be no question of bias but for her we adopted an approach that can best be described as reverential. She is as much a memsahib as Vasundhara (without the excuse of being a Maharani) and yet nobody mentioned her Italian shoes or her expensive clothes. She is an outsider in the real sense but nobody mentioned this either and as for being a novice its hard to think how Uma - who has been a minister in the Central government - can be described as more of a novice than Sonia who has no administrative experience whatsoever unless one counts running Indira Gandhi's household. But, the reverence came out most clearly in the assiduousness with which every comment she made was reported on front pages.

Even when she tossed about unsubstantiated charges of corruption they were reported without a single question being asked. If this is not bias what is it?

Venkaiah's words came back to haunt me last week for another reason as well. I happened to be in the lobby of the Taj Palace hotel when a group of noisy, rent-a- crowd type protesters marched in bearing placards and shouting slogans against Narendra Modi. They were protesting his presence at the World Economic Forum's India summit where he had been invited to make a pitch for Gujarat.

Now, I am no fan of Mr Modi and have attacked him often in this column for allowing the violence after Godhra to get out of control. But, he is the democratically elected chief minister of Gujarat and has every right to seek investment for his state. Yet, it was not just the protesters who thought he should be denied this right but several businessmen at the summit as well. When asked to explain why they said it was because he had allowed Muslims to be massacred. This is valid, what puzzles me is why nobody condemned Rajiv Gandhi to permanent villainy after he allowed more than 3000 Sikhs to be massacred in Delhi in 1984 and then justified the bloodshed. When a big tree falls, the Earth shakes. Remember?

Biased reporting is bad at all times but becomes a serious nuisance at election time so Vasundhara and Uma have found themselves fighting two battles simultaneously - one against the opposition and the other against the media. This happened, please remember, in Gujarat as well and worked to Modi's advantage. Who knows what will happen this time, what worries me now that I have written this piece is that once more I will find myself labeled a ''BJP journalist'' and condemned. It has happened before and will probably happen again but I find it hard to be politically correct particularly when political correctness amounts to dishonesty.

Write to tavleensingh@expressindia.com

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements