Neutral Media and Narendra Modi's 365 Days in Office

Published: 28th May 2015 06:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th May 2015 08:23 AM   |  A+A-

Arun Jaitley goes gaga over Narendra Modi’s first year performance”  screamed a media headline. “Congress brings scathing report on Modi’s one year”  yelled another. The BJP or the Congress will never claim theirs as neutral view. But media, Indian and foreign, have assessed Modi’s one year for almost a fortnight -- as no government has ever been before. That is presumed as neutral. No one questions the media’s neutrality. In the media world, there are editors and owners who are openly Congressmen. Some are subtly Communists and of other leanings. Foreign media have their geo-political agenda. Yet all media stand together to ensure that the neutrality of none is questioned. And no one dares them. But precisely because the media is unquestioningly holding high moral ground, time is ripe for a plain comment on the media’s alleged neutrality. The media’s alleged neutral comment on the first year rule of Modi, with whom it shared the most hostile relations definitely till last year, provides the ideal context for that.

Neutrality claim - Fake

Ramnath Goenka, the most independent newspaper owner-- and therefore most feared by wrongdoers -- never celebrated neutrality as a virtue. He would say the neutrals fall between two stools-- between the right and the wrong! He declared it was better to take a view than have no view against wrongdoers to look neutral. He fearlessly took on the delinquents whether it was a public authority or a buccaneer in business. He equated freedom of press with one’s guts to take on the high and mighty and not the privilege of pretending to be neutral. His campaigns against corruption would hardly qualify as neutral. He would chase the most powerful delinquent alone-- whether it was any Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi or Ambani-- whom the rest of the media would fear. He would refuse to join a mass chase as it needed no courage to be in a crowd. Today’s media is a pale version of those in his time. The media that was lured by ads to compromise with news did exist then also. But even they would not sell news for money. Today some big media houses prostitute their soul for cash and shares. But they too claim neutrality!

Hounding Modi as Mission

But in Modi’s case the media did not even claim to be neutral to him till it was clear during the election campaign last year that he was almost running into to No 6 Race Course Road. Hounding him itself was its explicit mission for over a decade. Modi survived in Gujarat, rose on the national scene and acquired national and international stature-- all against a determined national and global media bid to stop him, even politically finish him off, at every stage. ‘Godhra victims died accidentally.’ ‘Not killed by any terror gang.’ ‘Modi instigated the riots that killed thousands of Muslims.’ ‘Modi got Sohrabuddin killed.’ ‘Modi conspired to kill Jiffri’-- This was how the media tsunami targeted Modi, with deadly impact on his image and legitimacy outside India. Foreign media echoed the Indian media’s hate campaign against Modi, multiplied and spread it world over, and recycled it back to India as foreign media view on Modi! Media in and outside India worked in partnership with dubiously funded NGOs that targeted Modi. Anti-Modi groups outside India networked and campaigned as Coalition Against Genocide [CAG] against Modi. It openly claimed in May 2005 that it got the US “to deny visa to Modi”  for allowing the massacre of 2,000 Muslims [?]. The media stories were repudiated by the highest judiciary in India. But the media couldn’t care less. The short-sighted US visa denial-- believed to be a foolish idea by most experts after Modi won -- had placed Modi in the company of Slobodan Milosevic, a war criminal, and made him a hate figure.

Media’s Silence on Gandhis--A Contrast

Compare how the media hounded Modi for 12 years with how it celebrated others, whose record was as grave if not graver than his. Indira Gandhi turned a dictator in 1975, threw the entire Opposition and thousands of others into jail and tortured thousands of ordinary men and women. Yet, when she was back to power in 1980, the media respected her as much as it feared her during Emergency. Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1984 with largest majority in history within six months after over 3,000 sikhs were butchered in Delhi right under his nose. Worse still, he even justified the killing saying “the earth would shake when a big tree fell”. Still, the entire media celebrating him as Mr Clean till of course Ramnath Goenka tore his image apart and almost single handedly brought him down in 1989. No one hounded Rajiv and no one wrote before 1989 elections, like The Economist Magazine wrote against Modi in 2014, opposing Rajiv for allowing massacre of the Sikhs first and then justifying it. If they are old stories, take the more recent ones. The media would not even ask a question to Sonia Gandhi, who locked the sitting Congress president Sitaram Kesri, an old man who had gone to the toilet, and occupied his chair to claim to have become the Congress President. The media would not even comment on the inhuman and nasty act. They did not seek her response when Yevegina Albats, an acclaimed Russian journalist exposed that KGB used to make payments in US dollars to “Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Ms Paola Maino, mother of Sonia Gandhi”.  Nor would they question her about the report in Schweizer Illustrierte, a respected Swiss magazine, that Sonia Gandhi was controlling secret account with 2.5 billion Swiss Francs (equal to $2.2 billion) in her (minor) son’s name”. Except for The New Indian Express [‘Zero Tolerance and Secret Billions’ NIE dated 2.1.2011] no media would even report it after the UPA came to power. Is suppressing the wrongdoings of the Gandhis integral to media’s neutrality?

Hostile till 2014

The media calumny against Modi was so persistent that immediately after the BJP anointed Modi to lead the party in 2014 elections, some 65 Members of Parliament petitioned  US President Barack Obama to stand firm on the Modi visa issue--which again threw dirt on Modi’s image abroad as he began his poll campaign. Communist leaders, who would consider it beneath their dignity to appeal to the US President, too had signed the petition. They did it despite the fact that the highest court of India had exposed their falsehood and yet the hate Modi campaign peaked again before the 2014 elections. The Economist Magazine, which no one will accuse as not neutral because it is from the West, wrote just ahead of the 2014 Parliament poll “this newspaper cannot bring itself to back Mr Modi for India’s highest office”.  Fortunately, Modi did not require the backing of a London-based magazine to become India’s Prime Minister. The same magazine writes now [May 23, 2015] that while it chose not to back Modi in the last elections because of his record of handling religious strife, it is now happy “Our fears of grave communal violence have so far not been realised’.  But its reason for not supporting Modi in April 2014 was of course differently worded--because “he refused to wear the skullcap offered to him” and refused to apologise for the riots”. 

Two Minus Scores

Why recall the vicious anti-Modi campaign by the media now? When Modi got elected in 2014, he began with two huge minus scores to overcome before he could post the first positive score of his rule. The first was the huge credibility gap on him created by the decade-long vicious media campaign against Modi in the countries, good relations with whom is critical to India’s development efforts. This scar on Modi was not easily erasable. And without a sense of remorse that its past role had become a great hurdle for Modi to perform as Prime Minister, the very media claims to be neutral to judge his one year performance! Some even made fun of his global strategy to undo the damage they had caused to him and called him a non-Resident Prime Minister-- echoing the Congress voice! The other huge minus score Modi started with was the domestic economy in ICU bequeathed by the UPA.  Atal Bihari Vajpayee- led Government had left a surplus of $ 20 billion on the external front, for the first time since 1977, a GDP growth of 8.5 per cent and job additions of by 61 million in five years. But at the end of the 10-year UPA rule, the economy was on ventilator for Narendra Modi to nurse it back to life. Against the current account surplus of $20 billion it inherited, the 10-year UPA Government posted a current account deficit of $375 billion. Not because of high oil price or gold imports as the UPA had lied. Reckless capital goods import of $670 billion in 10 years, much of it at zero-rated tariff, caused the current account havoc. The UPA record of high growth rate for eight years was phoney--jobless growth. The UPA Government added only 2.7 million jobs in the first seven years, against 61 million in Vajpayee’s five-year rule. Foreign debt rose by four times to $450 billion in UPA years. On top of the economy in ventilator, the UPA had left behind the 2G and coal scams “ particularly the latter because of which hundreds of thousands of crores of bank funds had become frozen in stalled projects. This had completely halted the investment cycle.

   Result: Modi had inherited a huge minus score when he assumed office last year. He had  to first overcome the minus scores. The neutral media would never a write a word on the minus scores and how he turned them positive-- a great achievement in itself. The moral is: look at the facts and not at opinions in media not backed by facts. Await tomorrow for how Modi has stunningly turned the geo-political minus score into high plus positive score--the most difficult task-- and how he has turned the domestic minus into high positive score in 365 days.

S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues. Email:  comment@gurumurthy.net

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