‘Us vs Them: English media is being pigeon-holed’

The branding of the “English media” as “elitist, pseudo-secular, left-wing, liberal, disconnected, rootless, pro-Muslim, anti-Hindu, pro-Congress, anti-BJP”—as if the English media is one animal; as if all of us receive our assignments from Prakash Karat and our paycheques from the Pope himself—would have gone down as one of the most successful campaigns undertaken under the right-wing captaincy of L.K. Advani, if only it weren’t so subversive in its intent.

Essentially, the premise has been as kindergarten-ish as George W. Bush: either you are with “us” or against “us”.

If you can tom-tom Hindutva as the greatest liberating force on earth, you are with “us”; if not you are anti-Hindu. If you can wear your blinders (supplied) and only see Gujarat’s stratospheric rise under Narendra Modi, you are with “us”; if not you are anti-Gujarat. If you can suspend your disbelief and applaud slaughter as statecraft you are with “us”, if not you are pro-Muslim. If you can call Sonia Gandhi names, you are with “us”, if not you are pro-Congress. Etcetera.

Certainly, the “English media” is not without fault. We get many things wrong; probably, we get everything wrong. We must be questioned, criticised, scrutinised, corrected.

But the result of this Goebbelsian campaign is an extraordinary (and growing) cynicism of the “English media” that plays right into the hands of those who sowed it and pays them rich dividends. Picking holes and splitting hairs has become a fine art, and a national pastime especially among adherents to the “cause” who cannot distinguish between journalism and propaganda, news and opinion, journalists and pamphleteers.

That hallucinatory state of mind got amply reflected in a chat that RAJDEEP SARDESAI , the editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, had with viewers on the channel’s website this evening. In the wake of the victory of Narendra Modi in the Gujarat elections, and the channel’s perceived bias against him, Sardesai ended up batting the usual bouncers.

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Vijay: The English media is biased against Modi and BJP. “Many” are pro-Congress. An easy way to increase the TRPs is rake up the post-Godhra issue. Why don’t you talk about Godhra or Nandigram?

Rajdeep Sardesai: I think there is an attempt to pigeonhole people, especially the English media, in pro- and anti-camps, especially in the context of Gujarat. Why can’t we discuss issues honestly and dispassionately without attaching labels? At CNN-IBN, we speak on a range of issues from Godhra to post-Godhra to Nandigram.

Raju: Mr. Rajdeep, can you accept it (the victory of Modi) is a defeat of media, particularly CNN-IBN also? Because the media is showing maligning and insulting pictures of Gujarat everytime in the name of Modi!

RS: A victory for Modi is not a defeat for the media, it is the defeat of the Congress party. Far from showing an insulting side of Gujarat, we have attempted to show all sides of the Gujarat story, the good, the bad and the ugly. I might add here that in every poll we did on Gujarat, we said Modi was winning.

Sareeta:Why do you think the media failed miserably to predict such overwhelming majority of BJP despite all odds? The English media was optimistic till the last minute that there would be a Congress swing and anti-establishment buzz throughout the state, but it didn’t happen. Modi dislikes English media strongly for this biased and parochial attitude for the media’s so-called pseudosecular tilt. He has not yet given any interview to any news channel, last time it was bad blood in the Karan Thapar show. How do you foresee the English media’s relationship with Modi will go from now? Will it be anti- or pro-Modi now when the Gujratis have given their verdict in huge numbers?

RS: I think the media and pollsters got Saurashtra horribly wrong. We cannot escape responsibility for that. But let me be honest: at no stage, did I feel that the Congress had any chance in Gujarat. In fact, I’ve just won a single malt bet for predicting more than a 110 seats for the BJP!! I think we need to look at Narendra Modi and Moditva without the ideological blinkers. I think the media tends to look at the Modi phenomenon in black and white terms. We either demonise him or lionise him. We should analyse and report on him in a more complex manner.

Rao: Rajdeep. Don’t you feel that “Moditva” is a creation of the media, now a much used word in elitist English media, to try and draw a line between Modi and BJP?

RS: I think there is a new strand of Hindutva politics that Modi is injecting. It combines an aggressive, muscular commitment to religious identity, but also a strong commitment to governance and developmental issues. The politics of Moditva revolves around the personality of an individual, hence the use of the term.

Whizkid_NO1: Why is Rajdeep Sardesai being seen as someone who has become biased?

RS: Because, as I said earlier, we are dividing people into “them” versus “us” based on our own ideological blinkers. I dream of an India that allows greater space for debate and dissent without accusing people of bias simply if we dont agree with everything they say. As a journalist, my aim is to report what I see.

Suyash: Modi’s positive aspects and what he did for Gujarat were not illustrated by the media. Don’t you think so Rajdeepji? Because it’s quite obivious without this he must have not won the hearts of Gujarat.

RS: Modi has definitely won the minds of a large section of people living in Gujarat. I agree his positive aspects need to be looked at more honestly. The media can’t see Gujarat as an ideological battleground only; it must be also seen as a state on the move.

Aamit: You say, “I think there is an attempt to pigeonhole people, especially the English media, in pro and anti camps.” Then how would describe the concerted and chartered media propaganda against Modi, which we have been seeing on channels like CNN-IBN?

RS: Only last week, a Hindustan Times media critic accused us of being unabashedly pro-Modi! I guess we must be doing something right at CNN-IBN to attract such diverse opinions. We have never run any campaign against Modi. We have, as I said, attempted to present every shade of opinion in and outside the state.

(The transcript has been corrected for spellings, punctuation and grammar)

Read the full text here: The live chat

Photograph: IBN live

Cross-posted on sans serif