New York City, Manisha Pande(newslaundry): Journalists almost always manage to get the story they want to get. Before they set out of their TV studios and offices to report, they usually have a brief prepared that covers all angles and hooks that the story must have. In that sense, much of what you get from your daily TV news and newspapers is not a report as filed by someone who just went out and reported (in the pure sense of the word) what he or she saw – because the reporter has already outlined some basic points that decide the tone and tenor of a story.
Ignoring anti-Modi protests, Indian media gave up all pretence of fairness and turned into cheerleaders instead of reporters
Objectivity (adj) is defined as: not influenced by personal feelings or opinions; considering only facts. But the very act of deciding to cover a story and then chalking up various points it must illustrate is subjective because an individual, the reporter, has chosen to do so – that choice is shaped by experience, ideologies and leanings, views accumulated over a period of time and so on. So, how do scribes ensure fairness — the one thing that distinguishes a work of journalism from PR activity or propaganda?
We’ll get to that in a bit. First, The Story: Narendra Modi’s maiden visit as Prime Minister to the US, a country that had denied him a visa even while he was third-term Chief Minister of India’s seventh-largest state, Gujarat. Journalists here knew the story they wanted and went after it with gusto: Modi the rockstar PM receives rockstar reception in the US. The brief it seems in this case was Modi’s “arrival” and how grand it was going to be. Reports in mainstream papers like this, this and this seem to suggest so – one of which was published on July 16, almost two months before the visit.
But should the brief be the story? What ensures fairness in a news report? Consistency is a viable aspiration. While objectivity is a quality almost bordering on the divine, mere mortals, and journalists for sure, can strive to be fair, and consistency is a good measure of it. Journalists are trained to develop methods to test information, and indeed, the pre-conceived notions they have while reporting on a story, some of which include verifying every fact they have with research and solid on-ground report to distinguish themselves from “untrained accidental witnesses”.
Old-school editors would tell you that the easiest way to ensure objectivity is to always get the other side of the story. In Modi’s visit, the other side of the story were the anti-Modi protests happening in the same city. In ignoring the protest and focussing expressly on Modi supporters, media gave up all pretence of fairness and turned into cheerleaders instead of discerning reporters.
The travesty was not lost on onlookers who had come to watch Modi in Madison Square. Shelly Wallia, a former student of journalism at Columbia University and intern at US-based magazine Fast Company, says she was surprised at the frenzy being whipped by the Indian media. “There were no more tickets available to attend Modi’s reception at Madison Square Garden so I had decided to partake in the congregation of Modi supporters just 10 blocks from Madison Square Garden, at Times Square, and watch the show live on one of the big screens,” she says, adding that though the crowd was impressive, she has seen bigger crowds when Ranbir Kapoor was promoting Besharam and when Sunny Deol visited for the India Day Parade last month.
Wallia says she saw many excited press people around at Times Square, the most enthusiastic among which was a reporter from Aaj Tak. “He passed around his mike, just like that, and a couple of people posed for pictures with it, and a few times with him. Once he befriended them with his mike gimmick, he got hold of a man with an Indian flag, a woman in a saree and bindi, a young girl, an old woman—whoever he thought captured the essence of the Modi wave. These cheerleaders then walked down the Red Stairs at Times Square, while he took the centre spot talking loudly at the camera amidst Modi chants. Next up, he asked them to perform a little garba dance.” Wallia adds that though the TV showed an NRI population smitten with Modi, she knows a lot of desis who couldn’t care much. Why the media thought it was only necessary to interview supporters is anyone’s guess.
Daniel Medina, reporter at Quartz, present at the Madison Square Garden yesterday says the Indian press seemed very reverent towards Modi and one could sense a nationalist fervour among the press. “I didn’t see anyone ask a critical question to the crowd present. I think the Indian media gave its readers and viewers back home what they wanted to read and hear – it was about India arriving on the world stage and on the path to becoming a bigger nation,” he says, adding that the event was meant to be a stage production and succeeded very well in that. The America press, he says, didn’t give Modi’s visit to the US much coverage but that is “probably because most Americans don’t know who Modi is”.
A group of around 200 Sikh protestors had gathered at Madison Square, protesting the indifference of the Modi government towards minorities, namely Muslims and Sikhs. Their numbers were far outnumbered by supporters – approximately 18,000 people – but surely their voices would have provided the much-needed balance in the overall coverage of Modi’s visit. One of the organisations involved was the Sikh Youth Alliance of North America (along with the gurudwaras in the East Coast). They came out in support of the Godhra victims.
Ashima Mahajan, who is a student of Public Health, says she boycotted Modi’s speech because she has never been his supporter, and that he is the Prime Minister now is something she has learned to accept with a pinch of salt. “I do not watch Indian news channels, but I have subscribed to their Facebook pages. Let’s just say Indian media is partial—and is tied to Modi’s PR agency, which is doing a fabulous job. Why is no one talking about the summons issued against Modi or the rightful protests against him right outside Madison Square Garden for not taking responsibility of the 2002 carnage or issuing a public apology? The good news is that the foreign media is both reluctant and sensible.”
The Indian media perhaps can take lessons from the foreign press, at least in this case. A USA Today report clearly states Modi’s visit thrilled and angered New Yorkers. The emphasis of the story is on Modi supporters but the report makes more than a passing reference to dissenters. The New York Times report while focussing on the goals outlines by the PM for India, noted that “not everyone was impressed”. The report also stated that Rekha Malhotra, a popular disc jockey of Bhangra Basement, said “she had turned down passes that she had been offered to see Mr. Modi speak”. Malhotra was one of the protestors and chose to stand outside the venue gates.
Mashable.com noted that “although Modi is seen as a divisive figure in India for his Hindu nationalist tendencies, he had no trouble galvanizing the New York crowd”. The report again mentioned the protests. A Wall Street Journal blog listing out the various newspaper reports on Modi’s visit succinctly reports that “On Monday morning, in the Indian media at least, Mr. Modi couldn’t get much bigger”.
Surely, if the foreign press could produce nuanced reports presenting a picture of how Modi continues to evoke differing emotions among Indians even abroad, our veteran journalists, well aware of domestic politics, could have at least made an effort to achieve some semblance of balance with their reports. And if the focus was solely and only the event at Madison Square, how is it that no one bothered to go into questions about who organised the event and how much money went into it. The only report that has come to our attention is that of Business Standard and the facts it presents aren’t all that pretty. Incidentally, the reporter is based in Delhi and didn’t have to make the trek all the way to New York City to bring out the specifics of the massive event that the #ModiInMadisonSquare was. [ Source: newslaundry ]
Editor’s Note: All views are belonged to the author and it does not reflect the views of publication house.