Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Omerta is Broken

As some of my posts on my other blog, beyondlabels.blogspot.com would have shown, I am no admirer of Arvind Kejriwal and his fellow agitators for the Jan Lokpal Bill. I have found them to be extremely unreasonable and dogmatic in the way they conduct themselves.
But I have to grudgingly thank Kejriwal for one achievement – making the Indian media break its self-imposed censorship over the Gandhi family. Read this excellent piece by R. Jagannathan in Firstpost.
His article deals only with the Robert Vadra issue, but can we forget the collective media silence over Sonia Gandhi’s health? I will let another article in The Hindu encapsulate that whole issue.
Such deep concern for the Gandhi family’s privacy stands out in sharp contrast to the complete disregard for the privacy of other public personalities. That right wasn’t available to the Prime Minister or to his predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee. In both cases, stories in the media about their health went into excruciating detail of their ailments, complete with diagrams, and their dietary habits. Subramanian’s article makes the point that no media organization reported on Vajpayee's failing health till the government itself made the disclosure. But in Gandhi’s case even after it was known that she was in the United States for treatment, no one bothered to try and get the details.
Or take the case of an even more private matter – state of a marriage, which had no bearing at all on the public office – in the case of Omar Abdullah, as I pointed out in this post.
Why also has no media ever reported about the silence of the government even on RTI requests regarding Sonia Gandhi? It is well known that the RTI activist whom Narendra Modi quoted on his now-denied Rs 1880 crore figure never got a reply to his question. Firstpost has filed RTIs on her foreign trips but hasn't got a reply. Why has this never become an issue in the media?
It isn’t just about the way the Gandhi family is reported on. It is also about the fawning attitude the media has in any interaction the Gandhi family, especially Sonia, has with it. These interactions are always on their terms, by the way. I don’t recall seeing any interview where Sonia Gandhi has been subjected to aggressive questioning the way all other political leaders are. If there is any such interview, I would be grateful if someone can let me know so I can correct this statement.
Meanwhile, two episodes have etched themselves permanently in my memory.
One is Sonia Gandhi’s first press conference at the Congress office on Akbar Road. This must have been in the late 1990s or early 2000s. It was touted as a big thing and lots of people came armed with questions. But the whole show was a carefully orchestrated one, with the Congress media managers having identified which journalists were to be allowed to ask questions. Others who kept raising their hands to ask a question were ignored. There’s probably nothing new about it, it happens in other parties as well. But what stood out in this case was that no one protested at this blatant rigging of a press conference nor was anything written about it.
The second episode is the sight of a now-celebrated aggressive television anchor, who had managed to interview Sonia Gandhi briefly (in his reporting days), asking a senior Congress leader, sycophancy writ all over his bearing - `did Madam see my interview? What did she think? Did she like it?’
Is it any wonder then that it requires a Kejriwal to get the media to start looking into the Gandhi family son-in-law’s business dealings?
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