To cash in on Narendra Modi’s popularity, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came up with a novel campaign during Delhi assembly elections earlier this year. Booths were set up all across the then poll-bound Delhi where people were encouraged to click themselves with a virtual image of the PM. The outcome of #SelfieWithModi and Delhi elections, both went against the BJP. While the poll outcome is a subject best left to political pundits, we can tell the party why the selfie campaign went south – they didn’t co-opt journalists to click the pictures.
On a sunny Saturday, India’s Fourth Estate congregated in BJP’s office in Delhi for Diwali Milan with only one aim on their minds: To click a selfie with the Prime Minister. For the said picture, they mobbed and they shoved, they posed and they scrambled. They probably also tried the famous duck face before landing for the assignment but that’s a secret between them and their bathroom mirror.
Journalists compete to take selfies with PM Modi. Does it befit the values of their profession?— Hindustan Times (@htTweets) November 28, 2015
Like any good journalist, instead of what and where, we need to explore the why of an event. Why would seasoned professionals who know that they are supposed to form opinions and stay neutral in the face of political promiscuity suddenly give up every belief for a picture? And they did it on camera, no less!
American journalist Steven Stark had famously said how today’s journalism is obsessed with the kinds of things that tend to preoccupy thirteen-year-old boys: sports, sex, crime, and narcissism. On Saturday, some Indian journos added selfies to the list.
The most important question a journalist in India has to Prime Minister Narendra Modi: Sir, May I have a selfie with you? #Journalism— Kunāl (@kunalmajumder) November 28, 2015
Is dere any 1 journo, who didn't clicked a selfie with Modi? Plz, jus 2 assure myself that self respect still persists in Indian journalism!— Savithri Thekkumpat (@ammusavithri) November 28, 2015
Modi meets UK press: gets asked uncomfortable questions. Modi meets Indian press: gets bombarded with selfie requests.— कनिका गहलौत (@kanikagahlaut) November 28, 2015
Modi either travels abroad or take selfie with people.. when does this dude work?? He is insane.. #ModiMediaGate— zubair choudhary (@kingchoudhary) November 28, 2015
Do remember that these mediapersons were no cub reporters. They are used to meeting heads of states, ministers and people who matter. But they were willing to become Twitter fodder for a selfie with the PM. They probably remembered the PM’s famous Times Square address where even Wolverine could not resist his charm. Or they thought the man who has posed with half the world leaders and all of Silicon Valley should be there on their smartphone saying cheese.
And then, they may be journos but they are also humans. How could they resist Modi’s Greta Garbo appeal? Modi and most media organizations have been deeply divided by fault lines ever since he stepped in the national spotlight. Even after he became PM, the BJP leader chose to interact with people through social media rather than the tried and tested the traditional media. The ice has thawed over time but this was one of the few times the two embraced so publicly. Mediapersons made the most of it, some would suggest at the cost of their work ethics.
From the Twitter outburst by members of the fraternity and general public alike, journalists did themselves a disservice. They forgot important lessons every cub reporter is taught at his or her editor’s knee – neutrality and objectivity towards the one they report on. They turned into fanboys and fangirls, who could only think the likes and shares this picture can get on Facebook and Twitter, not to forget Instagram.
Or maybe, just maybe, those present thought ‘Mr PM, can I have a selfie with you?’ was an important question whose answer India really wanted to know. Then, maybe a refresher course in Journalism 101 is in order. The most important lesson: Uncomfortable questions are a yes, fawning selfies are not.
Watch | PM Modi hosts ‘Diwali Milan’ for journalists