The fifth estate: Sagarika Ghose joins a long list of journalists entering politics

Do journalists compromise objectivity by entering politics?

WrittenBy:NL Team
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Journalist-author Sagarika Ghose has sprung a surprise with the Trinamool Congress’s decision to field her as its candidate for the Rajya Sabha polls. But she isn’t the first – India has had a long list of journalists entering the political arena, some even becoming ministers. 

Sagarika and her husband and India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai have been trolled over the former’s announcement, with many right-wing accounts on social media trying to undermine their journalistic work as nothing but “biased”. But there has been genuine criticism too.

Journalists, after all, are meant to be independent ‘pontificators’, fair and neutral observers of governance and a key part of the accountability process. They are not meant to cross over into party politics with all the spin doctoring which accompanies adversarial games. But considering that there is no bar on journalists entering politics, many have crossed from the fourth estate – even though very few can successfully freewheel between the two.

For example, M J Akbar, who launched and led several prominent English dailies, became the minister of state in the Narendra Modi cabinet. He stepped down from the post as the BJP tried to distance itself from sexual harassment allegations against Akbar during his previous role as newspaper editor. Over two decades before his BJP stint, Akbar had won from Bihar’s Kishanganj on a Congress ticket. 

While many journalists believe that entering politics will not impact their fairness and neutrality as a journalist later, there are some who even go on to refuse awards from the government.

P Sainath, founder of People’s Rural Archive of India, declined the YSR Lifetime Achievement Award from the Andhra Pradesh government in 2021, and said that journalists should not even accept awards from governments they cover or critique as they are “external auditors to the government”. Sainath had told Newslaundry that the incident should not be made into a big deal and that his personal philosophy of not accepting government or state awards is not new.

Another prominent example of a journalist joining politics is Arun Shourie, the former editor of The Indian Express and The Times of India who was nominated as a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh by the BJP first in 1998. Shourie, who held several portfolios during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, has been critical of the Narendra Modi government.

Chandan Mitra, who led The Pioneer for many years, was nominated twice to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP. And Rajeev Shukla, a senior Hindi journalist and television anchor, joined the Congress after being nominated to the Rajya Sabha.

There are several others who have joined active politics in recent years, including Shazia Ilmi, who left the Aam Aadmi Party and joined the BJP in 2015 after over a decade in news production. And who can miss Ashutosh, who unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls on an AAP ticket in 2014, having joined the party after years of anchoring Aaj Tak and IBN7 shows?

The list also includes Ashish Khetan, the investigative journalist who joined the AAP in 2014. And Supriya Shrinate, who stepped down as the executive editor of ET Now to join the Congress in 2019.

Can they return to journalism? Are there exceptions? Read this to know.

This report was published with AI assistance.

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