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Prime Minister Narendra Modi routinely complains that journalists are biased against him and his party. He also says they are soft on the opposition, especially the Congress and the Gandhi family. He has now used a media interview, one in the continuing series in the slog-over phase of these elections, to articulate his view in some detail.

In the very detailed interview to The Indian Express last week, Modi made the following main points about journalists:

– They might pretend to be neutral, but they aren’t.

– Good and fair journalists must be neutral.

– In the past, editors/journalists could conceal their predilections. Editors always used to be anonymous, speaking rarely, if at all, at seminars. Now they speak all the time. Today, with most of them chattering away on social media (mainly Twitter) they are exposed.

– They are complicit in collectively maligning his image, a part of the ‘Khan Market Gang’.

As someone who’s been around in journalism for more than a bit, I am happy to join this argument with him. I break down my response in seven short points.

Journalistic neutrality is an impossibility. It is also an uncalled-for demand. Living beings, whether human, or dogs and cats, will always have a view on any situation or issue. What journalists can, and should do, while having their opinions, is to employ professional tools and tests to make their reporting objective and fair.

Social media, especially Twitter, is a great new medium for journalists to multiply their reach and impact. It can also be a trap and PM Modi is right to say that when journalists make their preferences, likes and dislikes so public, how do you trust them with their editorial fairness. It’s a problem and newsrooms are learning to deal with. In the US, legacy giants such as The New York Times and Washington Post have greatly strengthened their social media policies, placing limitations on their journalists publishing their personal views if they reveal their bias. ThePrint’s Code of Ethics allows its full-time journalists to write on social media anything that would also be publishable on the edited platform. For example, you cannot call somebody a mass-murderer or thief on social media or in public speeches if you don’t have the facts to say so in a story.

It is incorrect to say editors’ views were not known until the arrival of social media. This varies between individuals and eras. Even in the past, many eminent editors such as Frank Moraes, B.G. Verghese, Girilal Jain, Arun Shourie, Prabhash Joshi and Rajendra Mathur (I am limiting myself to languages I read) have shared their views generously and without hypocrisy or pretence of anodyne neutrality with the readers.

The PM is unfair to the vast majority of Indian media which dotingly supports him today by insinuating that journalists are mostly opposed to him. If you watch your TV channels at prime time, all, except the odd exception, mostly sing his praises and keep tough questions only for the opposition. He has the biggest media fan club for a leader I have seen since 1977. Again, barring a couple of exceptions, the big dailies in most languages do not give him any discomfort.

Some media still questions and criticises him. But he is not the only leader in power to face this. Every leader does, as did Dr Manmohan Singh, particularly in his second term. The same Time magazine, which has now caused consternation by calling Modi India’s ‘Divider-in-Chief’, had featured Singh on the cover with the headline: ‘The Underachiever’. The PM mentioned two specific issues from the UPA period, the formation of the National Advisory Council (NAC) which could overrule the Cabinet and Rahul Gandhi tearing that ordinance. Both had drawn criticism. You might want to Google me with “NAC, extra-constitutional” and “UPA’s auto-immune self-destruction”. The lesson is, when you are in power, be prepared to face the heat. Or at least some heat.

His characterisation of his critics, where we presume he combines journalists and liberal intellectuals, as “Khan Market Gang” is the most interesting highlight. It is as if that tiny old market is to ‘devious’ Lutyens’ Delhi what Balakot is to ‘terrorist’ Pakistan, a hideout of malcontents. My submission is, irritating though he may find this pesky lot, he greatly exaggerates their power and influence. He does indeed flatter them. It also shows he is reading too much Twitter. He talked about reading a collection of 50 tweets by a journalist/intellectual and figuring out his reality. That, prime minister, is too much time spent on Twitter. You must have more important stuff to read.

And finally, where does it leave us journalists? I started working in early 1977 with a tiny Delhi-based weekly called Democratic World. We had created a home-ad for the magazine that read: “The Left thinks we are Right, the Right thinks we are Left, so we must be doing something right.” I’d say, follow the same view. Keep your opinions and predilections close, no problem. Just be professional enough that you can convince your audiences of your objectivity. We are mere journalists. We aren’t political scientists. And definitely not political philosophers. What we wish for, can’t be a part of our journalism.

So, don’t worry about your audience’s minds getting prejudiced by the abuse you face on social media. Because it won’t happen. Your audiences are smart. And if you so wish, you can update that old ad copy for modern times: “The Left thinks we are Right, the Right thinks we are Left, so we get trolled by both.”

A thick skin is as much a professional necessity in journalism now as a clean nose and that erect spine.


Also readModi’s Hindutva 2.0 written on Varanasi walls: Temple restoration, not mosque demolition


 

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Looks like the author lives in cloud cuckoo land if he believes in his own words “the vast majority of Indian media which dotingly supports him today”. The author conveniently misinteprets ‘neutrality ‘ and confuses between opinion and news. A better word is bias. What is meant that media should be less biased and report news as objectively as it can rather then constantly alllowing it’s biases creep in. As far as opinions are concerned they can be freely aired by journalists and editors as their own opinions and not news. Unfortunately present day media is more keen on airing opinions rather then reporting. And then they moan when social media does a better job.

  2. Conceptually I agree with what Shekhar wrote on this topic. However, the viciousness with which media is against Modi is something unprecedented. Modi on his part too, has ignored media with disdain it deserves. Media, under the garb

    of asking tough questions, has been extremely biased and it appears it’s only objective is to bring down the current government by creating atmosphere of chaos, confusion and hopelessness. Media may be necessary in a freely functioning democracy but media professionals have feet of clay. Modi has a new interesting term Khan Market mafia to describe these forces but taking cue from Indira, he should have known how to cut them to size and cripple them perhaps for ever. Though Modi is called a dictatort, there hardly anything he has done to control or muzzle the media

  3. Gupta Ji,
    If Narendra Modi Needs your advice, he will ask you for it.
    Otherwise, please continue to be the advisor to Pappu.

  4. “vast majority of Indian media which dotingly supports him today” , really? LOL!! Mr Gupta must be living in a parallel universe. I have never seen so much vicious and unrelenting criticism and derogation of any other Indian Prime Minister as that meted out to Narendra Modi. There may be a few friendly / sympathetic journalists in less watched channels but make no mistake virtually the entire lot of the substantive electronic and print media and “intellectuals” cannot stand the notion of Modi as a PM. I do not ever remember Rajiv Gandhi, in spite of his role in the Sikh Pogrom of 1984, being treated with a fraction of the bile reserved for Mr Modi. Nobody in the establishment requested foreign countries that he should not be granted visa for travel abroad! Nobody in the media expressed outrage that an elected Chief Minister not proved of any allegations could be stopped from getting visas from major countries at the behest of the dynasty! Rajiv Gandhi never faced the court of law. Mr Gupta can protest as much as he wants to but there are clearly double standards at work, not least in the media. I am not going to make any judgments as to whether this is because they belong to the bought media class (better knows as “presstitutes”) or their ideological pretensions coincided with the dynasty but when there was any critique it was measured, restrained and respectful. So please, Shekharji, spare us your sanctimonious defence! The world knows it differently from the record you may wish to paint. Thank God for the Internet and Social Media that the likes of us can have a say and intervene in this elite monologue!

  5. Neutrality of journalists does not mean being neutral to the truth. Any journalist worth the name should be biased towards truth whether it hurts the news maker or not. Only opportunistic leaders would like journalists to be neutral towards truth. Because that hurts them.

  6. Khan Market has showrooms of expensive brands. In that sense Mr Modi himself belongs to “Khan Market gang”. Doesn’t he patronize expensive brands himself? He possibly thinks he’s a writer, just the other day he was talking on TV about some poem he wrote “just today”, but how many writers can afford to, and more important CHOOSE TO, write with a Mont Blanc pen? If this is not an elitist bent of mind, then what is?

  7. Whatever be the preferences of Sekhar Gupta, I found the content on ThePrint.in is better than Indian Express which has become the factory of news garbage.. I wish commercial success of ThePrint.

  8. Journalistic Neutrality
    Mr Gupta
    I read with interest your article on the criticism of media by PM. The problem with the MSM (especially English) is their extreme bias in favour of the Family party no 1 and against Modi.
    How can you forget the vilification campaign against the man for 2002 riots, calling him mass murderer, merchant of death etc. and all these without a shred of evidence that he supported the culprits. The parliamentary committee formed by the UPA (Ulta Pulta Alliance) findings on 2002 Gujarat riots :
    790 Muslims and 240 Hindus killed in riots and nearly 100 Hindus killed in Police firing. Further within 48 hours the CM (Modi) called for the Army support.
    Mr Gupta you’re a senior journalist and you know Gujarat better than an Aam Aadmi like me (not from Gujarat).
    Please recall the Gujarat riots in 1969 and 1985. The 1969 riots were used by our terrorist neighbor to ensure we didn’t become a member of OIC and India was humiliated in the inaugural session. And what was the duration of the riots in 1969 & 1985 compared to 2002.
    In one of your articles you had quoted that the India Today (Gujarati edition) had to be discontinued soon after the IT published a very strong condemnation of Babri Masjid demolition.
    With such a background in Gujarat the kind of reaction after the Godhra incident was not the creation of Mr Modi. Still he was painted as a villain and continued to be so even after SC acquitted him. If you people – (neutral journalists& Lelis) had evidence should you not have furnished the same to the SC and got him convicted. After all it was your favourite, Utterly Pathetic Alliance was in power. You have done a great disservice to the nation by allowing a mass murderer to continue as a CM of Gujarat for 12 years and now as PM for the last 5 years.
    Now coming to the other side – you people have been very soft on the Family party no 1 and other SINO (Secularists in Name only) parties. A leader gives some statement that he / she and their party stand for the downtrodden, minorities etc he / she and the party is certified as Secular and no questions (inconvenient) asked.
    What is the record of these SINO parties – with respect to the welfare of the minorities or general performance. A few years back Dr Amartya Sen released book on the plight of minorties in WB and lamented on the same. As you are aware WB is one state which is ruled only by the SINO parties. Have any of you neutral journalists raised this issue. You people will only talk about plight of minorities in BJP ruled states, Why?

    Coming to the SINO party no 1
    (being the GOP they get all the credit – Family party no 1 / SINO party no 1, as they’re the pioneer and guiding light for all the family and SINO parties in the country).
    The complaint from people like us is that they’re never subject to serious questioning. For example what your colleague Karan Thapar did in his shows – Devil’s Advocate. He did it with Modi and others like Jayalalitha. Wonder why no such sessions with the family or even the senior leaders of the party.
    With Sh RG (Junior) also he’s being handled with kid gloves and that brings me to the most important approach by the English MSM – manipulation of news and manipulation of views.
    With RG I’ll tell you about news manipulation.
    On the Doklam issue RG has been critical of the Modi Govt. But his response in one of the recent inter-actions during his trip to Europe was baffling, to say the least.
    When one of the viewers asked how he’d have handled the Doklam crisis, Mr RG says I don’t have the details of the Doklam issue.
    A leader who wants to take up the highest position in the Govt, is so casual about an important issue on relationship with a major neighbouring country and doesn’t want to get to know the details.
    It’s all the more baffling for the following reasons:
     He’s a member of the parliamentary committee on External Affairs. This committee had interviewed the External Affairs secretary, Defence Secretary and the Army chief, among others on the Doklam issue. If Mr RG was too busy to attend these meetings, the least he could have done is to go thru the minutes of such meetings, which he’d have definitely been provided with as member of the parliamentary committee.
     Further at the height of the Doklam issue, as per media reports, he met the Chinese envoy. (his party initially denied and then accepted that the meeting took place). So what did Mr RG discuss with the Chinese envoy during his meeting, if not the Doklam issue?
    Don’t you think the neutral media should have raised this issue. On the contrary this news never made it to the MSM. Why?
    This is just one issue. There are scores of other such issues.
    You highlight Modi’s goof-up on cloud cover and rightly so, but what about RG – probably you thought everyone knows about and there are so many that it has become the routine and newspapers like HT’ll have to have a separate section – RG’s Goof-up corner.
    Still it’s worth quoting a few :
     Connect all MRI machines for improving health care
     Aisa machine lagaoonga – ek side aaloo doosri sidese Sona
     45000 Crore acres allotted by Modi to his friend.
    Despite all this RG’s you-too campaign against Modi is atrocious to say the least. You-too campign on Rafale- he’s trying to tell the world that Modi is also corrupt like almost all the constituents of the Useless Procrastinating Alliance. By repeating this RG feels he’s on level playing field with Modi.
    What I’ve quoted above is only the tip of the ice-berg.
    Now on manipulation of views. This pertains to your favourite media network – NDTV.
    There was an article by LDF leader on their govt’s handling of Sabarimala issue – how secular, ensuring implementation of SC order, women empowerment and the usual stuff.
    I had commented on 2 points :
    1. If the LDF govt is so nice and ensures that the SC orders are implemented, how come an order of the SC passed in 2017 on a dispute between 2 groups of another community was not implemented. It was submitted to the SC to keep it in abeyance as it would create law & order issue!
    2. Ms Gowriamma a senior leader of CPI(M) – who was a member of the Left govt headed by Nampoodripad, was denied becoming CM in 1996 – was it because she was a lady or because she was from the Ezhava community.
    To my surprise this was blocked. Why?
    Why NDTV doesn’t run a Reality Check or Truth vs Hype show on the 2 royal constituencies. I throw a challenge – if an unbiased team does a survey of these 2 constituencies and compare with any of the constituencies in South India, I’m sure which would be better. Anybody from MSM willing to take up this challenge.
    Sorry Mr Gupta it’s got longer than what I intended, but I hope it alteast gives an idea of why not only Modi, many of us Aam Aadmis feel that the English MSM is absolutely and undoubtedly biased.

  9. Fact of the matter is there are biased media who jump on the BJP and PM Modi for any incident but are quiet when similar incidents happen in Congress ruled states. Case in point the Alwar rape case. They dedicate pages after pages to Modi suit but keep quiet on Rahul Gandhi’s 60 day jaunt or his Burberry jackets.
    And as for Shekhar Gupta, his Cut the Clutter justified former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s New Year jaunt saying he was a young & dynamic PM even though 2 of his former employers (Indian Express and India Today) highlighted blatant misuse of govt machinery.
    Not one word of appreciation that PM Modi has never taken a single day break, or that his family live like ordinary citizens (just like PM Shastri) and that he is atleast putting efforts at Swach Bharat, Ujwala etc rather than declaring them as Rights and doing nothing.

  10. If, after five years, the unbiased consensus is that much better use could have been made of the sterling mandate, a lot more could have been achieved at home and abroad, the Report Card could have been an impressive document, one missing piece is the relationship with the media. It should have started with the appointment of a Media Advisor, someone of the stature of Shri Shekhar Gupta. Some system of regular, on record briefing like the White House, or even the MEA, does, although it need not have been a daily affair. A group of journalists being present on Air India One, covering print, electronic, national, regional. A formal Vigyan Bhavan style press conference at least two or three times a year. One on one interviews possibly once a month. A way could be found to talk to journalists while visiting different parts of the country. All this interaction would not only get the government’s point of view across – of which there has been a surfeit – but allow for genuine journalistic scrutiny / questioning / grilling. As the dilution of the RTI Act shows, candour and transparency are no longer considered either virtues in themselves or an obligation of accountability in a democracy. All of this would have kept the government on its toes, nimble, striving to improve. What has happened to an immense swathe of the media is a tragedy. Naming names would be invidious, there are compulsions and constraints. But lots of people are doing their dharma, may their tribe soon greatly grow in percentage terms.

  11. Totally agree with Shekhar Gupta. Modi says democracy is a festival and he is Sevak No. 1 (public servant). By that account, press is an important part of democracy, and a conduit between the public and its prime servant. Modi should have formalised and professionalised that broken conduit, setting an example of a public servant’s accountability to the citizens. Instead he abused press for 4.5 years, and used it in the last 6 months with his numerous ‘humble’ interviews.

  12. Mr Gupta, your are wrong at least mostly! As a regular reader of most papers on line, I can see most of the newspapers (and probably the TV channels too) are pretending to be “democratic” and “liberal”, but generally anti-BJP and particularly anti-Modi. News items as well as most of the opinion columns are extremely pro-Congress and anti-BJP. Under the circumstances how you wrote this column is illuminating my point above !

  13. It is true that an incumbent PM will always be a prime target for criticism, for, making fun, for drawing caricatures and cartoons. In fact, the PM, who is the foremost politician of the country should view this as a matter of pride and distinction. During the election time, it is always the PM who is evaluated with very strong, rigid and strict parameters. This is entirely justified. However, elections are always about comparison. People do not vote for ‘A’ because ‘A’ is good, but because they think that ‘A’ is better than ‘B’. Thus evaluation of the leaders of opposition is also required to be done by applying the same yardsticks of comparison. This is not being done, is Modi’s complaint. Why Rahul Gandhi is not being evaluated with same rigidity, if he is considered as a probable for PM’s post. He is person who is not able to comprehend an order of the Apex Court and makes an irresponsible and false claim and thereby lands himself and his party in an avoidable soup. Supposing if such a leader becomes PM, what happens to the country? Has the media analysed this aspect? The country suffered in the 1980’s because Rajiv Gandhi, an inexperienced politician became PM, simply because he was son of Indira Gandhi. His tenure witnessed many gaffes, errors and scams. Do we want to repeat history? This is the simple point that is being alluded by Modi.

  14. Shekhat Gupta before naming New York Times or Washington Post first bring yourself upto those standards atleast. You guys sell off your opinions and your views. There is least journalism. Journalistic Neutrality is a possibility for sure. Provided you want to be neutral and you do not crave for those duplexes and prime plots. Do not mock the readers with your old fashioned and self suited thought processes. The fact that everyone read once more everyone has come to topple one man shows the strength of that man that there are more that one people, party, institutions, lobby groups etc needed to just remove one man from his chair.

    • New York Times and Washington Post are as big a sell off as indian media. Their reputation is long gone. Under Trump USA economy is doing better than ever but not a single word of appreciation for him.

  15. I agree with Sekhar that a person, journalist or otherwise can’t be neutral. However, problem starts when some journalist fabricate truth or disguise reality and become part of political propaganda. Take the example of news headings. Even Sekhar Gupta coins deceiving news headings, frames content in one or other way to fit into a prefixed narrative. Today readers are quick to identify this game and this has been possible due to social media. The cruelest fallout of journalists’ deception games is the fast erosion of the credibility of such journalists.. Sehkar Gupta should introspect why he is accused of being anti Modi..

  16. An analysis of Google trends says: “The internet revolution has been around a long time. But BJP lost its “first mover advantage” a very long time ago on the internet. This is not 2014. Anybody who is on social media and does not have their eyes closed will say that the Congress online propaganda machine is formidable… and in many ways more nimble-footed than that of BJP.” This analysis is contrary to the perception of learned journalist Shekhar Gupta.

  17. In the IE interview, modi had not made vague statements like the one you recounted in this article. He had given specific factual examples of the bias. You should have better spoken on those.

  18. When Manmohan Singh was pm, or rajiv Gandhi pm , or Deve gauda and host others all faced criticism, sometimes very harsh

  19. I am only bakht of my work and the country for whom as an Indian I have given my life. We the people should never be a bakth of politicians Rahul and others included. They are our service manager to provide service using our money, so we should be bakht of Ishwar not neta or abineta. Critics for any government is good to keep a check and we should thank them.

  20. I am it a modi Bhakt but I am true INDIA bhakt .. Shekhar Gupta is NDTv licker n he will never Support modi n his government. These people forget that what ever Modi is also our country’s PM. He deserve respect n support
    I was not shocked when he said nothing in support of indian PM on time magazine article .
    God save INDIA from such critics

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