The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference.
On the night of April 14th, NDTV telecast (yet another) interview with the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. This show was titled “Townhall with Arun Jaitley”, where two categories of people would got to ask questions to Mr. Jaitley – citizens and then “eminent citizens”. There was an uproar on twitter. So much that #ShameonArunJaitley became a trending topic in no time.
On the morning of April 16th, there was news that Smriti Irani would attend an event #ExpressAdda being conducted by Indian Express. No topic trended, but there was outrage on this too.
And on April 16th again, Rediff published a detailed interview of Piyush Goyal with Sheela Bhatt. Tweeple were happy with the “aggressive” stance taken by Piyush Goyal for some queries from the media.
There was some outrage earlier too, when many ministers gave exclusives, particularly to the English TV media. Yours truly also wondered many times why do the ministers give exclusives to a media whose viewership is pitiful compared to vernacular media channels!
The outrage against the ministers is primarily because of the strong dislike/hatred towards the Lutyens’ media. The outrage is a reflection of the frustration that despite proven incompetence of this section of the media, bigwigs of the government continue to grace their studios/events for exclusives.
We will first discuss why this dislike and frustration exists before referring to a key trend – the GoI is perhaps listening to the voices of the tweeple.
So why are Tweeple angry with NDTV (or for that matter Indian Express or other media)? Since relating to contemporary events is easier, let’s focus the answer by citing from the interview mentioned above.
The “language of intolerance”.
In the interview with Arun Jaitley, Barkha Dutt rephrases a question as “intolerance building up for contrarian opinion”. She cites utterances of a few MPs and gets agitated. Then she brings in the most civilised debater in the entire world – Suhel Seth to pose a question to the Mr. Jaitley. Suhel Seth made it to the show as an “eminent citizen”. Sample his questions below:
“Why can’t you control some of the dolts around you?”
“Why can’t they be thrown into the Arabian Sea?”
To her credit, Barkha makes a passing reference that the usage of the word “Dolt” is part of the language problem. She doesn’t find any problem with “Why can’t they be thrown into the Arabian Sea?” Infact, Barkha Dutt will continue to entertain the “eminent citizen” Suhel Seth on many of her upcoming shows – regardless of the language he resorts to. And then on the same show, with a straight face, the Finance Minister of this country is asked about language used by few politicians (referred to as “motor mouths” by Barkha!).
The “attack” on Churches
Social media has been shouting from the rooftop – The “attack” on churches is one of the biggest lie that the entire media propaganda machinery resorted to. At around the 47th minute, Arun Jaitley lays bare the facts of the “attacks”. Barkha Dutt even nods approvingly for some of them. Jaitley blames the media for this fear-mongering. He asks Barkha if they have shown the results of the investigation with the same lightening speed with which they reported the incidents. No answer from Barkha.
On the same day, NDTV’s senior journalist Sunetra Chowdary, while covering the PM’s tour to Germany, gets to interview only one industrialist, Mr. Sanjay Kirloskar, who in the most bizarre coincidence has an opinion on this topic and this is the headline we get:
Even when facts are called out, these people just refuse to accept fault and make amends.
The Land Acquisition Bill/Ordinance
Arun Jaitley gave a detailed speech in Rajya Sabha describing why certain changes were necessitated. Nitin Gadkari has addressed a couple of press conferences to present the viewpoint of GoI. Despite this, most of the English media continues to praise Sonia Gandhi’s efforts in uniting the opposition in opposing this bill. Barkha (yet again) repeats questions like why is this bill so important for the government! And then finally adds – “Did you make a political error of judgment?”
Zero references to all points made in favour of the bill, so far by the government. So Arun Jaitley again had to repeat what he spoke in the Rajya Sabha. Not only was Barkha totally dis-interested in this, she insisted that Arun Jaitley respond only the political question part of it and not the operative part of the bill!! She kept on insisting on whether a Joint Session will be held (same question asked earlier by other journos) – caring little for the arguments that Jaitley made.
Playing the role of the adversary
Barkha Dutt says that media’s primary role is to play the adversary to the government to a certain healthy level. Is lying and total mis-interpretation of facts “healthy” then? Without this introspection, what is the point in ruing that people are not liking NDTV? She talks about “intolerance building up for contrarian opinion”. I suggest that you visit her timeline on how “tolerant” she was to the trending hashtag #ShameonArunJaitley.
The anger of the tweeple towards NDTV and other media is because of their intolerance towards facts and their obsession with creating controversies.
So why were people angry at Arun Jaitley?
At around the 36th minute, he says that if only a section of media is doing things wrong, it is “better to look the other way”. Tweeple believe that this “looking the other way” has cost the BJP very dearly in the past. They believe that every lie must be countered, and if it has to be done in a language that will rattle the Lutyens’ establishment, then so be it!
It’s one thing to give an interview (or a series of interviews) to media that constantly critiques you on performance. However, to ignore the lies; the hidden agenda; and the hypocrisy on display (especially if it brings bad name to the country) and to continue to encourage them by giving exclusives, is what angered the tweeple.
I do not agree with the hashtag that trended though – such a hashtag first trended as #ShameonTimesNow for their blatant disregard to basic journalistic norms. For tweeple to continue to use that on a senior minister was unfortunate, there was nothing “shameful” for appearing for yet another interview.
The same tweeple have helped in ushering in a sea change in the discourse over the past few years – setting a perfect example on how Internet Activism can do good for the country. That this Internet Activism was hijacked recently for #NetNuetrality is a different story – even before a reasonable counter could come, we were just bombarded with how the Internet will just die! Anyways, coming back to our topic!
The anger is that the government is not listening to tweeple (the same people who selflessly worked towards an NDA victory) at all – however the three interviews I mentioned at the beginning of this article tell a very different story. Here’s how.
At around the 47th minute, while illustrating the example on “attacks” on churches, Arun Jaitley says – “I now go beyond TV news for facts”. This is a perfect example of “Better late than never”. Social media has been crying hoarse about the exact same thing for years now! That Mr. Jaitley told this on the face of NDTV, from NDTV’s studio, was quite gratifying to note. It was also gratifying that all through the interview, he has sought to repeatedly put the media (and Barkha Dutt too) on the mat – by questioning their disregard for facts.
Smriti Irani attended the Express Adda event and said this – The rule in my family is if it is in the express don’t believe it. She ensured that questions were only based on her office and work – answered them effectively and criticised the media on their face, when required.
In his detailed and in depth interview to Sheela Bhatt, Piyush Goal, while detailing various aspects of the coal auctions, also gives it back to the media in an aggressive fashion. For example– “Did I not just explain it to you? Is there something you have not understood?”, and “Are you not contradicting yourself?…I suggest you make up your mind what you want to ask!”
This is precisely why I believe that this is the government taking the feedback from tweeple. The government has two choices – to completely boycott the Lutyens’ media or to counter the Lutyens’ media using their platform. The GoI cannot afford to choose the former option. It would be good though, if senior ministers in the GoI choose a variety of such platform – English, Hindi, Vernacular (TV and print), Online publications – to put forth the agenda and counter the views.
I got a little carried away when Jaitley was on NDTV. I still believe that he should also appear on Hindi channels more often. But if the recent trend is anything to go by – we will see a new aggression within the government to counter the lies by Lutyens’ media. And in depth interviews that focus on performance of the ministries. Here’s to a better discourse!