MODI REGIME’S VISION FOR MEDIA INVOLVES TOTAL ALIGNMENT
It could be a tricky
2021 for those who practice play-it-safe journalism. For over six years—ever
since the BJP came to power—many indulging in this dubious craft (opinion
writers included) have been treading the tricky middle path where even mild
criticism of the ruling dispensation is carefully calibrated without crossing
the Laxman Rekha to ensure no displeasure is invoked.
But time may be
running out for such journos. Reports in the press reveal the recommendations of a Group of
Ministers (GoM). It has called for “evolving a multipronged strategy to amplify
messages through media engagement, outreach programmes at the level of states
and districts, and working with influencers.”
Reading between the
lines one can safely assume that this PR exercise would end up with the
government covertly demanding nothing short of total allegiance from those who
wish to be in its favoured category of “friendly reporters, editors
and influencers”. The new “communication thrust” will no doubt shrink the
already diminished grey area further. And this will result in many more journos
lending their services to one-sided journalism favouring the government and
justifying all its actions.
may be compelled to do so to hold on to their jobs. Many newspaper managements
are clear that they do not want strong anti-government stories. A few reports
against the so-called fringe elements in the BJP and minor policy decisions are
tolerated. But those who venture further risk being side-lined, or, worse,
asked to resign to facilitate “restructuring” of the organisation that employs
Those who would
rather quit than become a PR arm of the establishment have one option—go silent
or write for alternative websites which welcome their reportage. The number of
such journalists have grown in the last few years and 2021 will see many more
joining the tribe.
Of course, those in
the mainstream will still be encouraged to prove their journalistic mettle by
attacking and exposing the Opposition, particularly the Congress. The grand old
party, thanks to rebellion in its ranks, electoral failures and the capricious
functioning of Rahul Gandhi has been a favourite target. It is even occasionally questioned on
the failures of the ruling party, almost as if it is in power. But far too many
anti-stories against one party and lampooning its leader, have rendered this
journalistic exercise predictable and repetitive.
Perhaps the same
micro-targeting of other opposition parties may be the next step as journalists
and commentators continue their “good work” for the government. However, one
understands that the establishment is now looking for fresh voices to endorse
its governance and to attack the Opposition. In this effort, the GoM recommends
employing the services of out-of-work journalists. The objective, a journalist
tells me, could be to propagate not just a Congress-mukt Bharat but an
forces standing in the way of the government is one thing, but what about heaping
praise on those in power? The BJP would like its court poets to further sweeten
their verses. They cannot get away by merely rubbishing the Opposition. Or by
subtly advancing a “balanced” thesis that despite all his flaws, there is no
alternative to Modi.
As journalists, we
are already familiar with thinly-disguised PR pieces which have already
appeared as “think” pieces using stock phrases like “give the devil its due”
and “at the end of the day this is a step in the right direction.” Some
editors/opinion writers have even gone so far as to project an Assembly
election result as the endorsement of policies implemented at the national
But pushing the
envelope further and blindly applauding the BJP may be difficult for “liberals”
who would not like to lose their standing as commentators with an
“unprejudiced” view. Also, to be taken seriously in forums and universities
abroad, while still pleasing a regime at home which has scant respect for human
rights will be the challenge of 2021.
Indeed, maintaining a
façade of being secular and democratic may be difficult. But even at the risk
of losing credibility, some “influencers” and editors will make compromises to
show their allegiance to those in power. We have already seen some honourable
gentlemen go out on a limb and say that too much democracy is bad for reforms. Implying that what is
required is a supine republic and a media that will ask no questions.
There has been a
string of issues on which the press has not discharged its role as a watchdog. On a range of issues—from Aadhaar and anti-CAA protests to Kashmir,
China and the pandemic—sections of the press have silently presented the
government’s narrative without raising any significant questions. Others have
carried fake news without any fact checks and drawn up report cards favouring
BJP chief ministers.
The latest example of
one-sided journalism is the farmers’ agitation. The media has been guilty of
portraying lakhs of agitating farmers as rich and not deserving our sympathy.
And opinion writers have been presenting the view that only privatisation can
save rural India. In fact, they would have us believe that every businessperson
in a suit and a fancy car is full of noble intentions and has only the best
interests of the nation in mind. Any minor lapses on their part such as the
mega loan defaults must be written off with taxpayer’s money since these were
risks taken to boost the economy!
With the next general
elections due only in May 2024, expect more such opinions thrown at you from
“fresh” and converted “influencers.” Also, some compliant journalist friends,
rendered unemployed during the pandemic, are likely to be placed in media
organisations or compensated for being active on social media where they will
lend their name to government-friendly reportage, posts and tweets.
As for the “liberals”
who pleaded the case for voting Modi in 2014 and changed their tune since, the
new year offers a chance to “redeem” themselves and join the band of government influencers and be
close to those in power. To justify the U-turn to their 2014 position, the
cliche “we must change with the new reality” will come in handy.
however, have their work cut out. Though they have been excluded from the
mainstream, they must continue to raise questions and keep the public informed.
This is a task they have been dedicated to in the past even when the UPA was in
power. Also, publications and websites bold enough to carry reports that hold
the government to account must be encouraged and supported.
cannot fool people for ever. Perhaps the only silver lining one can hope to see
in 2021 is the realisation among a growing number of people that the so-called
truths being fed to them are falsehoods. Luckily, such a realisation has become
more pronounced after the farmers’ agitation has exposed the real intentions of
The writer is a
senior journalist and author. The views are personal