Media and Democracy: A Political Play
MUMBAI: On September 5, 2018, Asia Society India Centre hosted Rajdeep Sardesai, Shaina NC and Milind Deora at the Nehru Centre for a discussion on ‘Media and Politics’, the event picked up key elements from Rajdeep Sardesai’s recently resealed book ‘Newsman: Tracking India in the Modi era’. The session was moderated by Naresh Fernandes.
Rajdeep Sardesai launched the discussion with his address, he talked briefly about his career as a journalist and traced the flux in the media landscape over the years. He mentioned the 2014 elections, that he closely observed and wrote a book on, calling the 2014 election verdict ‘historic’ which effectively brought an end to the congress era. He made remarks on the ruling government and while recalling the period of emergency in the late 70’s said that ‘Modi combines the personae of Indira Gandhi and Bal Thackrey’ which reflect in his functioning as premier.
He commented on Mr Modi’s appeal to the masses and his ‘Hypnotised Constituency’ that remain enamored by his personality. He argued that while Mr Modi was effectively captured the ‘Urban Zeitgeist’ the opposition has lost its appeal. He also talked about the perils that come with the new media, that allow ‘sensationalism to replace sense’. Towards the end of his address he read excerpts from his book and made a solemn plea to people of the journalistic fraternity to realise that ‘service’ lies at the core of their profession.
Naresh Fernandes began the panel discussion by reminding the audience and speakers of the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh exactly a year ago and condemned the act. Rajdeep in agreement said that such incidents are not uncommon today and sadly receive tacit sanction from a section of society. He said the pen is no longer stronger than the sword and journalists are also on the receiving end of spewing hatred. He asserted that the media-politician relationship is in shambles across political parties and blame cannot be ascribed to one party alone.
Milind spoke about the impact of media on governance, as important issues get shadowed by ‘sensational’ news, the momentum around crucial issues dies out. Milind reiterated that Media and Politics are not exclusive rather they share a strong symbiotic relationship and can thrive together. When asked about Mr. Modi’s relationship with the media, Shaina said the PM has been able to establish a direct link with the masses without many media interactions. She added that media is free to do its job and can be a legitimate voice of dissent and the government has no intentions to muzzle dissent.
The discussion later addressed crucial concerns of the media and civil society being gagged. Milind added that people are afraid to voice their opinion, for instance, businessmen who are critical of demonetisation fear harassment. Sardesai added that the government should be transparent and take measure of their accountability. In conclusion he also said that there are lessons to be learnt from the way media functions in many parts of the world including the United States, where print and television media has thrived despite incessant attempts from the top leadership to censor them. The session ended with perceptive questions from the audience.
As reported by Ashutosh Sharma, Programme Intern, Asia Society India Centre
Watch the programme here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-yg44EF9wM&t=411s