Media Speculation not at Cost of Accountability
By Amba Charan Vashishth
The media was agog with speculating that Nitin Patel will step into the shoes of Mrs. Anandiben Gujarat chief minister who had resigned. The atmosphere in Patel's residence turned festive and there were celebrations in anticipation of the impending elevation. But, finally it came out to be Vijay Rupani and Patel made his deputy.
Much before the actual reshuffle of the council of ministers by Prime Minister Narendra Modi took place on July 5, 2916 the media was agog with reports of certain individuals being inducted, some ministers being promoted and some others being dropped, a few for crossing the age-line of 75 or for poor performance.
These media reports created a very anomalous situation and embarrassing moments for everyone who figured in the news stories.
Those who were projected as probables in the council of ministers or being promoted started receiving a stream of well-wishers who made haste to be the first to congratulate with sweets and bouquets. The former could not afford to be discourteous to their visitors by refusing to accept the greetings in advance.
The most embarrassing had been the fate of those projected to be dropped. Their friends and relatives who used to visit them as a matter of routine started avoiding them during those days. They knew their friends would not be in a state of mind to receive them with a smile. The individual ministers too found it awkward to visit their constituencies, to attend public programmes fixed much earlier and even to step out of their bungalows for fear of facing the too caring friends, well-wishers and even media. In a way, these poor fellows were, per force, confined to their residences listening and following the reports on news channels and print media.
When the actual expansion occurred, hardly one percent of the predictions came out to be true. What was the result? Unnecessary worry and harassment of the persons figuring in the news. It would be no exaggeration to say that some persons had to spend sleepless nights with bouts of anxiety.
Afterwards, the media started interpreting the change of portfolios in their own way. It is the prerogative of a prime minister/chief minister to select or change his team. But the reasons that are imputed to change or not selecting some persons the media speculated are not always true. If a person's portfolio is changed, the reason can be non-performance, but not always. Why should PM/CM retain a person in his council of ministers who has failed to come to the expectations of his boss, both in government and ruling party? Can it not be that a PM/CM changes a portfolio to give the individual greater exposure and chance also to perform in his new charge? But the media is not condescending to strike at this positive side.
Hair-splitting has become the bane of today's journalism and negativism rules the roost. These days there are hardly news reports; these are news stories opinionated. Though best effort is made to make it appear fair and objective, yet slip of partiality of the reporter could not be hidden despite best efforts. And there can be no stories lacking the thrill of surprise and imagery. That is why they need not be true, always.
Journalism has, mainly, five objectives to perform: see, hear, observe, analyse and report. A reporter cannot tinge his/her writing with his opinion. If he does, the report loses its sense of fairness, impartiality and objectivity. But that is the malady with which the present day media seems to be suffering. In fact, a majority of news reports these days have a mixture of facts and events interspersed with comments which fail to hide which side he/she stands. into being. But that too needed to keep one's proclivities and feelings at bay. The journalist's role then was to confine oneself to the facts that one discovers and reporting as a matter of fact. There was no room for subjectivity in such a report. The nobler characteristics of impartiality and objectivity got eclipsed.
Of late, another phenomenon of reporting based on assumptions has raised its head, more so in the electronic media engaged in a cut-throat competition to be the first to assumee and to, later, claim that this is what it had predicted much earlier. If the prophesies turn untrue, as mostly do those of astrologers and meteorologists, mum is the word without the least trace of repentance.
The media is the fourth pillar of democracy. Media is in the forefront to expect the three pillars of democracy — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary — to be accountable. But why should the fourth pillar, media, not be so?
The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst.