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Did the media create the Modi wave?
MUMBAI: It was one of those rare occasions when on-screen rivals Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami shared the dais to decode if the media helped to create a wave in favour of Narendra Modi during the just concluded Lok Sabha elections.
Joining Sardesai and Goswami in the panel discussion during the Mumbai Press Club’s Red Ink Awards were veteran journalist Kumar Ketkar and ad man Piyush Pandey. Playing the devil’s advocate was journalist-turned- Star India CEO Uday Shankar.
Starting off the proceedings, Sardesai was all praise for the campaign run by Modi. He also brushed aside suggestions that the media worked in tandem with Modi to create an impression of invincibility around him. Rahul Gandhi, he said, was no match for Modi, who is a brilliant orator.
“It’s all very well to say that the media fuelled the Modi campaign, but the man ran a brilliant campaign, give him credit for that. On the other hand, you had someone who should be doing anything but politics. Rahul Gandhi can be in a lot of professions, but politics is not one of them. There was no contest, so to blame media for the NaMo wave is a bit unfair,” Sardesai stated.
The CNN-IBN editor-in-chief was also unsparing in his criticism of certain journalists and news channels who, he said, abandoned all principles of journalism to become Modi’s fellow travellers during the elections.
“Some journalists have abandoned the basics of journalism. They are either cheerleaders or what I call supari journalists. And Modi benefited from that. He was never subjected to the kind of scrutiny in the last two years that others were subjected to. While he was brilliant in strategy, he was spared the ignominy that others were subjected to,” he rued.
Some news channels, he said, elevated Narendra Modi to the level of a god. “He is a brilliant politician, but he is not a messiah. In some of the interviews that I saw of Modi, only Arnab asked the relevant questions. As for others, I think the journalists who did those interviews need to think whether they want to do journalism or hagiography,” Sardesai stated.
Goswami, though, had a different view. He said that part of the problem is that most of the news channels based out of Delhi get too close to politicians. Times Now, he said, was the only channel that was not headquartered in the capital city.
“The greatest fun of being away from the capital is that I am not romantically associated with any politician. Personally, I don’t care what politicians think. So my distance from politicians is physical and psychological. This applies to Modi also. So when we speak about Modi or Modification, I find it strange that we are over-awed by politicians,” Goswami said in his usual style.
According to Goswami, the reason why the media chased Modi was because he was an interesting character in a unipolar election. “The emphasis on Modi was great because there was no competition in this election. So the focus was primarily on one character,” he stressed.
He also asserted that the media was not dependent on one political character. “The media gets unnecessarily perturbed. There are many ways of getting ratings and Mr Modi doesn’t necessarily get you ratings. There is no scientific evidence that Modi gets ratings,” stated Goswami.
Kumar Ketkar, on his part, said that the Congress Party was also responsible for stoking the Modi wave by incessantly targeting him. He, however, chastised the media for focusing on the performance of only one government (read UPA) while turning a blind eye to the other (Gujarat government).
“While the failure of other states like UP and Bihar were highlighted by the media, the same was not the case with Gujarat. How many journalists have gone to Gujarat to find out what exactly is the Gujarat model of development? Modi was not only treated with kid gloves, he was pampered,” he alleged.
By not highlighting the deficiencies of Gujarat government headed by Modi, the media inadvertently stoked the Modi wave.
At this stage, Shankar pointed out that Modi even swept states like UP, Bihar and Jharkhand where media penetration was very low.
That’s when ad man Piyush Pandey chipped in. He said that the wave was created by Modi, and everyone else including the media rode it. “When the Indian cricket team wins, why does everyone talk about Dhoni? It’s the same here,” he opined.
The Star India boss was optimistic about the future of the media. “The future of journalism is bright because we do something that is essential to the society. We should not be cynical about the media. Without them, the country would not have been what it is.”
The discussion ended with Shankar saying, “I think there is too much reverence even now in Indian media. And on the other hand, there is too much emotional attachment. Either we are just completely cynical, or when we go there, we get sucked in. There has to be a balance in between. Overall, I think we shouldn’t be cynical about the media. We have lots to capture and improve but without the media, this place, this country would be much worse.”