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Rahul Gandhi is now the target of much ire for calling ANI editor Smita Prakash a ‘pliable journalist’ and describing her interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as staged. In the past, politicians have referred to journalists as “presstitutes” and “news traders”.

ThePrint asks: Rahul Gandhi mocks Smita Prakash: Journalists under attack or part of partisan politics?


We have attacked biased ideologies, but never taken pot shots at individual journalists like Rahul Gandhi did

File photo of Sambit Patra | sambitswaraj/FacebookSambit Patra
National spokesperson, BJP

Rahul Gandhi’s style of politics is condemnable. The interview of honourable Prime Minister Modi, which he was referring to, was completely unbiased in nature. It was highly unfair of him to call the interview “scripted”. As if that wasn’t enough, he then went ahead and attacked the interviewer by calling her “pliable”.

What was the need to attack the journalist personally? He took a very personal dig at her and it was most uncalled for. Journalists should not be dragged into political battles in this manner. After all, they are only doing their job.

The term “presstitutes”, which has been used in the past, is in no way similar to Rahul Gandhi’s personal attack at the journalist. We have attacked biased ideologies and schools of thoughts in the past, but never taken pot shots at individual journalists. This is what makes our politics different from Rahul Gandhi’s. If he had the courage, he should’ve engaged with our politics in a civil manner instead of unnecessarily dragging the journalist in his politics.


Rahul Gandhi isn’t wrong. There are 3 types of journalists: pliable, not-so-pliable, unpliable

File image of Divya Spandana | FacebookDivya Spandana
Head of social media, Congress

There are three types of journalists: pliable, not-so-pliable, and unpliable. A quick search will tell you that pliable means “someone who is easily influenceable”. Is that a derogatory term? No. Was Rahul Gandhi wrong in calling a particular journalist pliable? Absolutely not.

Sure, there are derogatory words used to describe journalists in India such like ‘presstitute’ and ‘bazaaru’ (a term given by PM Modi himself), and it’s understandable if journalists are offended by it. But pliable, really?

Whether you think the journalist was pliable or not is a matter of perspective, but pliable journalists do exist.

Modi doesn’t have the guts to face the media, unless it’s on his own terms. And if you’re willing to work around them, so be it but that makes you pliable and you will be called out for it. And Modiji, if taking tough questions is not your thing, it’s okay. You’re scarred by your past. Karan Thapar is a tough journalist. But you should also be open to being called 36-inch as opposed to the 56-inch you imagined yourself to be.

I have a lot of love and appreciation for the journalists who do a tremendous job in times of suppression. Tragically, India has dropped down two places to 138 in the press freedom index since the Modi government came to power. 18 journalists have been killed in the last 4.5 years alone and India is the fifth most dangerous country for journalists today. To the unpliable journalists, we salute your courage.

Journalists need to accept that they will be subject to the same scrutiny and criticism reserved for politicians. Freedom of speech is unpliable. And for the journalists who don’t like to be criticised: wake up, it’s 2019 –people are more aware, and journalists are…well, pliable.


Imagine the outrage if Modi mocked a senior journalist in this manner

Shekhar Iyer
Former senior associate editor, Hindustan Times and political editor, Deccan Herald

Journalists are not impervious to having soft corners for political parties and leaders. In the past as well, we have seen certain interviewers as being “too friendly” to the politician being interviewed. That said, it was highly unbecoming of Rahul Gandhi to mock Smita Prakash the way he did.

Journalism has become highly polarised today. “Left-leaning journalists” and “Right-leaning journalists” are terms we often hear. The field is no longer seen as objective. But, every journalist, regardless of their political affinities, tries to be as professional as possible.

More importantly, getting an interview with any top leader is extremely difficult. Lack of access is a reality of Indian politics and we cannot overlook that. In that case, journalists may adopt certain tactics that would allow them an interview with a senior leader. Ultimately, journalists are known by the work they do and how they can set themselves apart—an interview with the PM of the country is one such significant work.

Imagine the outrage if Narendra Modi mocked a senior journalist in this fashion. It would’ve been completely unacceptable. The fact that certain leaders of the BJP have referred to journalists as “presstitutes” in the past is no excuse. If Rahul Gandhi is trying to be a new-age politician, then his attitude cannot replicate that of other politicians. He is well within the rights to criticise Modi’s answers in that interview, but shooting the messenger makes no sense.


Politicians attack the media when they don’t like the narrative it is shaping about them

Shivam Vij
Contributing editor, ThePrint

The code of honour between media and politicians is that one of them says uncomplimentary things about the other. That is how it should be, because unlike politicians, the media does not occupy offices of real power.

This code of honour has been broken across the world by partisan politics, including by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has called journalists “news traders”, and a ministerial colleague of his coined the term “presstitutes”. BJP members and supporters on social media hurl all manner of abuse on the media, as do those of the AAP and the Congress these days.

Rahul Gandhi calling ANI editor Smita Prakash “pliable” is unfortunate. Such judgements should be left to the public and other media outlets to make. Don’t shoot the messenger. Yes, the media itself can be biased, partisan, manipulative and pliable. But politicians should not target the media directly because the resultant ‘tu-tu, main-main’ between journalists and netas will only further batter the quality of our public discourse.

It may be bad for public discourse, but politicians attack media because it’s good politics. Media is the site of politics. Politicians attack the media when they don’t like the narrative it is shaping about them. If you don’t like the media narrative, discredit the media.


In bitter and petty political battles, journalists are becoming collateral damage

Ruhi Tewari
Associate editor, ThePrint

Each political party has its own set of ’embedded’ journalists and neither the BJP nor the Congress is unique in that sense. For the top leader of any political party to, therefore, take a jibe at a journalist publicly, alleging partisanship or “pliability” is both a bit rich and paradoxical.

Journalists are not and cannot be immune from criticism and questioning. But for a political leader to slam a journalist because he feels an interview she conducted was “staged” is unwarranted and petty, given his party has its own set of “loyal” journalists as well.

What Gandhi did, in fact, is in a way what modern-day trolling is, where come what may, journalists are constantly trolled by all sides. A journalist may or may not be partisan, may or may not be peddling an agenda, but would be slammed by one or the other.

Having said that, it would be imprudent to look at this particular instance or even the broader picture as a larger trend of journalists being under attack. This is more a reflection of how bitter, petty and belligerent Indian political discourse seems to have become, and in this hostile war, journalists are becoming collateral damage.


By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.

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3 Comments Share Your Views

3 COMMENTS

  1. It’s called criticism, not mockery. Learn the difference. Unless the media now believes they are above criticism and everything they should be accepted as gospel. BTW, BTW, one of your own media colleagues has this to say about the interview (https://t.co/gO4Ht9ysrj). To quote from the article, “But much like all his previous interviews over the last four years, this too turned out to be bereft of any diligent and persistent cross-questioning. The interview was yet another exercise when Modi was given a platform to attack the Congress, and lead the audience towards believing that the Indian political system is only a contest between him and the opposition – or more like a Modi versus Rahul Gandhi cricket match”. So now will you accuse your own colleagues of ‘mocking’ you? What about the Editors Guild of India? Or should only your fellow media people be allowed to criticize you?

  2. It is indeed inappropriate for Mr Gandhi to single out Ms. Prakash. We know what some of our journalists have been doing and continue to do. it is no secret that some of the media houses and their loud-mouth, forever shouting anchors or print media political editors are not even ashamed of their actions. Mr Modi is a media made-hero. He is a politician with very limited understanding of India and its history or the needs/aspiration of current day India. He is a self-styled strong man and same ideas are perpetuated with the help of friends in media who have sold their soul for a reason (unknown to most of us). If Mr Modi really cares for India and India’s idea of India (not that of the advisors and crony capitalists who have been funding expensive elections for BJP), he can, as a first step, own the disastrous policies that he has implemented (DeMon, not investing enough in rural India and farming even after two consecutive droughts during his tenure, obsession with controlling fiscal deficit). Agriculture policies have caused deflation, killed rural demand (2/3rd of India’s population) and we are being told that India can grow even without incomes growing for 2/3rd of the economy. How? Rest some other time. Unasked for free advice from a concerned citizen – one does not have to become the PM by dividing India and abusing our ancestors forever – and not have courage to recognise own follies even to the nation who has posed faith in that individual.

  3. I am one who holds the media in the highest esteem. Most of the people whose tweets I read regularly are journalists, preponderantly from Delhi. That would be a waste of time if they were pushing partisan agendas. However, it is a fact that the government – media relationship has seen better days. It ought to have been engaged with on a continuing basis, at all levels. Creating a soft, sepia tinged narrative will prove counterproductive.

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