Don’t just look at the two commando comic channels and get brainwashed into believing everybody is like that and pronounce the end of Indian journalism.
At the release of P. Chidambaram’s book Speaking Truth to Power last Tuesday, the conversation moved very early on to how docile, in his view, the fourth estate had become under the Narendra Modi government.
The moderator, NDTV’s Nidhi Razdan, brought me into the conversation at that point, and we spoke about it for about four minutes. For the entire segment, please do see this video:
I said, in conclusion: “There are pressures always, but I’ve never felt that there is such pressure and fear now that I have a story to tell that I cannot tell. I think if any journalist says that I’m not able to tell a story (that I have) because I have fear, he’s either a liar or a coward.”
You can watch the video above and read the transcript below.
Of course, I also said that the Congress makes a very lazy opposition, and is wrong to put the monkey on the media’s back. It cannot outsource its job to the media, and so on.
This has resulted in an organised Congress troll campaign — because I said there was no pressure on the media or fear under this government, and things were all hunky dory.
So here are the facts, to set the record straight. I said there are pressures, of course, but journalists ought to know how to deal with them. Don’t just look at the two commando comic channels and get brainwashed into believing everybody is like that, and pronounce the end of Indian journalism. I said there is still a by-and-large civilised media, which includes NDTV itself, The Hindu, The Indian Express and, let me also add ThePrint and many others, who would not be deterred from running a great story they had out of fear.
You can’t be a true journalist and say, “I have a story, but am too fearful to run it”. That remains my position. Trolling doesn’t bother me. Congress trolls are bachchas compared to the heavy duty stuff I get from the other side. So that’s not the issue. It is just that a lie told a thousand times becomes the Goebbelsian truth.
I’m posting the video and transcript for a fact-check, if anybody is interested:
(27.59) P. Chidambaram: Opposing and exposing the government, instead of that, sections of the fourth estate have become – I mean, I don’t want to use strong words – have become, so… shall we say, so compliant, so docile. The best examples are from the animal world, but I don’t want to do that.
Nidhi Razdan: I’ll ask Shekhar to talk about that. But, Shekhar, as an editor, it’s actually sad in a democracy when not enough opposing voices are being transcended, being allowed, and we now see what the opposition is saying is on Page 13 of a newspaper, or is a little wrap of pictures on the television. Is that healthy for a democracy?
Shekhar Gupta: I think two things. First, when you said that you didn’t want to use strong language, I thought you were worrying about using the word ‘Presstitute’: That’s a term of endearment now, it’s not strong language, so please go ahead and use it. Everybody does.
I think it’s not the job of the media to provide a voice to the opposition. It’s for the opposition to bring issues of interest to the media. And it’s a terminal problem with the Congress party, if I may say so. Because whenever the Congress party isn’t in power, it becomes very lazy. A lot of its top people – I say this in front of this audience – are busy cutting deals with the government of the day, because they have many other interests. So, I’ve had experience of running newspapers with BJP in power and with Congress in power. When Congress is in power, BJP is always on its toes, it’s bringing you stuff, bringing you scandals, it’s bringing you stories. It’s bringing you – not statements – it’s bringing you, after all 2G, the Commonwealth Games, some of those scandals were exaggerated tens of times over. But the BJP did the homework on that. When Congress is in the opposition, even when you go and give the Congress something, by way of breaking a story, “Boss I’m out on a long weekend”. Right. Congress is a very lazy party in the opposition. So for Congress now to blame the media, I will say go take a walk, right. Congress people simply do not do their homework when they are out of power and I will repeat, they go back to their businesses. Very few Congress people do…
Chidambaram (interjects, raising book in hand): This is ‘homework’.
Shekhar Gupta: Well, you are an….this is an exception, but if writing a column is homework, I’m sorry it is not. Because somebody has to come to the media and say, that the government has made these claims about these jobs, I am giving you – I’m not even saying a scam, or something. Opposition has to bring stuff to the media. Don’t put the monkey on the media’s back. Congress’ opposition simply doesn’t make news. So I don’t think…
Nidhi Razdan: There are often claims that the government makes which are not even punctured by basic fact-checking by the media anymore. Now you do have wonderful news sites like IndiaSpend or AltNews or Boom FactCheck that take a claim that the government makes and puncture it with some basic data and research. Hand on your heart, do you think the media is really doing its job today, is questioning the government?
Shekhar Gupta: Hand on my heart. Who is the media? NDTV is the media, you question it. The Indian Express, The Hindu, these are big papers, they question it. Business Standard questions it. So, I think, we get, see, when you paint the devil on the wall, it visits your home. When you look at two commando comic channels every evening, and you think the media is finished. Media is not finished, those are commando comic channels. There is civilised media. So, I think – I think, this debate has gone too soon on the media and maybe I’m sounding like I’m on the wrong side, I should (instead) be whining and complaining. I would say that I’ve never felt – I’ve run a paper, I’ve been by myself, now I’m trying to set up something new. There are pressures always, but I’ve never felt that there is such pressure and fear now that I have a story to tell that I cannot tell. I think if any journalist says that I’m not able to tell a story because I have fear, he’s either a liar or a coward.
Nidhi Razdan: I don’t know if many journalists out there would necessarily agree with that