2015: The year when journalists and politicians brawled like never before
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2015: The year when journalists and politicians brawled like never before

Nine instances when the gloves were well and truly off.

By Arunabh Saikia

Published on :

Politicians and journalists have never been best friends. They are not supposed to be. It’s simple: you don’t bromance a person you are supposed to ask uncomfortable questions of and consistently give grief. An adversarial relationship between politicians and journalists is but a sign of a healthy democracy with a free press.

This year, though, saw hostility between the two groups peak like never before – and, the inimicalness, on occasions, seemed to be more than just general antagonism that the two groups have historically had towards each other. Here are nine such instances when tempers got frayed, insults were exchanged – and clashes started to appear more personal than professional.

  1. The first serious conflict of the year between the media and a politician took place in February and involved the news wire IANS and Information and Broadcasting Minister of State Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. IANS had reported that the minister, while addressing a gathering of women journalists at the Indian Women’s Press Corps, had said that women were “better off pursuing off-field roles like that of news analysis as opposed to field reporting in view of safety, challenging conditions and odd hours of work”. Citing the IANS report, many other news organisations went to town with the story.

Rathore reacted with much melodrama, sending out a barrage of tweets invoking his wife and his “highest respect for women personally and professionally”. Defiant in his demeanour, Rathore called IANS’ report “totally false”. “Shame,” he lamented.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s online support base put its weight behind Rathore (read: resorted to calling the media names). Just as the outrage on both sides had started to wither off, a recording of Rathore’s original speech surfaced.

Turns out, Rathore wasn’t being his accurate Olympic silver medalist shooter self in his assertions about the report being false and fabricated. Rathore, the tapes revealed, did say that role of women could be “far better utilised without actually going out in the field”. Rifle in your mouth, anyone?

  1. Two months after the Rathore-IANS duel, it was the turn of Minister of State for External Affairs General (retired) VK Singh to get into a skirmish with the media. And this time, there was no ambiguity about what was said and what wasn’t. Reacting to criticism on Twitter in wake of a statement at a press conference, this is what the retired General tweeted.

Singh mumbled something like an explanation, but refused to apologise. The BJP “distanced” itself from the comment (Twitter, a party spokesperson said, is a “personal platform”). But the damage was done. Presstitute (which Microsoft Word, surprisingly, still doesn’t recognise as a valid word) has since been the word to hurl at a journalist if you don’t like what he/she writes/says. Singh’s legacy continues be carried forward. Not just by Twitter trolls but also by party spokespersons like Sanju Verma. Talk about giving legitimacy.

  1. On June 1, the already embittered rapport hit a new low when Aaj Tak news anchor Ashok Singhal made a stinker of a jibe at Union Minister of Human Resource and Development Smriti Irani. Singhal, in a question dripping with misogyny and sexism, asked Irani what she thought was the reason behind Modi making her a Union minister. (“Kya khubi lagi aap mein?”)

Irani was understandably upset and shot back at Singhal: “Would you ask such a question to a man?” Unlikely, we say.

  1. Barely two weeks later, as the story about External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj allegedly indulging in impropriety was at its height, Times Now went batshit crazy with an “exclusive” about Swaraj using her office to help Lalit Modi with travel documents to flee the country. The minister, usually calm and dignified in her interactions with the media, reacted sharply, directing her ire at the channel’s political editor Navika Kumar. “Look who is preaching propriety – of all the persons Navika Kumar!” she tweeted.

Ouch, that must have hurt.

  1. Rajdeep Sardesai wrote an open letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, apparently upset about the latter’s “misplaced priorities”. Fadnavis responded, calling Sardesai’s grouses agenda-driven and a result of him being “leftist” and “pseudo secularist”. (Fadnavis insisted his response was “without malice”!) Rajdeep then responded to Fadnavis’ response. Well, when you are a prime-time news anchor, you can’t possibly not have the final word.
  1. This is when Amit Shah joined the party. And when Shah does something, he does it clinically. As a journalist, this one was almost embarrassing.

Shah bullied India Today TV’s chocolate-boy Rahul Kanwal like it was college ragging session. “Aap itne uchal-uchal kar paanch din se Dadri-Dadri kar rahe hain Rahul Kanwal, jahhan par Hindu ladkon ko maar diya gaya hai wahaan par kitnon ko arrest kiya hai, aapne study kiya hai? Study kiya hai?

Don’t know whether Kanwal has since studied what Shah wanted him to, we certainly hope he does his homework better the next time he interviews someone like Shah.

  1. Now, how can BJP leaders have all the fun? Rahul Gandhi, while visiting the Dalit family whose house was burnt down in Faridabad, leading to the death of a child, was asked some tough questions by the media contingent present there: “Is this just a photo-op?” Gandhi, clearly not used to being questioned about his actions (or anything for that matter), raged and ranted. “This is insulting; not for me but the family.” Shooting from someone else’s shoulder, are we?

8. Smriti Irani, again. This time, though, she showed very little of the grace she exuded while dealing with the Aaj Tak anchor. Reacting to a story in The Economic Times about her proposing close to 5,100 admissions to Kendriya Vidyalayas in the current academic year, Irani launched a scathing personal attack against the reporter of the story on Twitter, calling the story “source-based agenda”.

The journalist stood her ground, reaffirming that she got no response from the ministry in spite of repeated requests.

For the sake of future reference: a good way to counter source-based agenda is giving the reporter your own agenda-based responses. Just saying.

  1. This happened live on the most-watched news channel (so we are told every day) of the country. Ashish Khetan of the Aam Aadmi Party, a former journalist himself, told Arnab Goswami that he would not able to report on Arun Jaitley as long as he was earning a salary of Rs 5 crore. Goswami seemed to have not heard Khetan’s insinuation (which is, of course, completely possible since things tend to, you know, get a little loud on occasions in Goswami’s show) or pretended not to at least. But the Aam Aadmi Party wasn’t going to leave it that: Arvind Kejriwal took to Twitter, seemingly curious about Khetan’s contention, seeking a confirmation.

Question the journalist’s integrity when he doesn’t ask the questions you want him to. Party of change, did someone say?

Clarification: An earlier version of this article contained an event from 2014. The error is regretted.

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