Kanchan Gupta is Editorial Director of NiTi Digital. He has worked at several newspapers, including The Telegraph, The Statesman and The Pioneer. During a break from journalism he served in the PMO as an aide to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and as Director of Maulana Azad Centre in Cairo.
There was a time when new entrants into journalism were taught the difference between information, misinformation and disinformation. The Editor would wag his finger at the young recruits and sternly warn them against indulging in peddling either misinformation or disinformation. Media’s job was to inform – those hurt by that information would take recourse to misinformation and disinformation. In response, it was the media’s job to expose both.
Such lessons are no longer given; many editors who now head news organisations have elected to forget the lesson they were given. This either suits their purpose to grab eyeballs or because theirs’ is a command performance. Like marionettes, they twist and turn as told to by their political masters. The naïve blame it on ideology. That would have required a certain amount of intellectual integrity – these are men and women who are intellectually (if not also morally) bankrupt.
And so it is that every story about Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi must begin with “in a blow to Modi”, never mind if that story is actually laudatory to him. Or, ‘2002’ must be mentioned irrespective of whether or not it merits a mention. This past week, it’s fashionable to mention ‘Wharton’, even if the story has nothing to do with a business school of which few people in this country know or frankly care about.
On Sunday, Modi addressed, via video, a large number of NRIs in the US who are members of the Overseas Friends of BJP. The event had been planned months in advance and rescheduled at least once to fit it into the Chief Minister’s crammed schedule. Guess what these editors and their media houses surmised? That it had been scrambled in response to Wharton disinviting Modi which was a shameful thing to do, not the least because it makes a mockery of University of Pennsylvania’s claimed credentials.
That was not the end of it. DNA ran a story headlined “Narendra Modi chants ‘India First’ while talking about Wharton issue” and then went on to report that the Chief Minister “made no reference to the … Wharton controversy”. Another example: IBN Live, which has made Modi-bashing into a creed for CNN-IBN, had a story headlined “People will forgive ‘mistakes’ if govt serves them well: Narendra Modi” in which the channel intentionally distorts what Modi said to suit its own agenda. The issue of post-Godhra violence in 2002 was never raised during the interaction. Talking on governance, Modi said if a Government works diligently and delivers development, then any mistakes made in five years are usually overlooked, forgotten and forgiven by the people. The mistakes clearly relate to policy issues. But it was slyly insinuated that he was referring to 2002.
Such examples abound. It’s a pity that despite media’s bluff being called again and again, it remains immune to criticism and indifferent to the truth. Is it impunity that comes with political patronage of the Congress that makes misinformation and disinformation the staple of media’s coverage of events? Or is it sheer cussedness of these alleged journalists, who are secure in the knowledge that their media houses are too big to be touched and brought to book, that makes them into liars and charlatans?