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Breaking now: How journalists are fast becoming part of the AAP story

The resignation of Ashutosh, the editor of IBN-7, a Hindi channel of the Network 18 group to join the AAP, has raised questions about the media’s relationship with the fledging party.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2014 00:56 IST

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is the political flavour of the season, with the media hailing AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal as the new messiah of the masses. The resignation of Ashutosh, the editor of IBN-7, a Hindi channel of the Network 18 group, to join the AAP, however, has raised questions about the media’s relationship with the fledging party.

The move had top editors discuss the ramifications of a switch from journalism to politics. “Journalists joining political parties isn’t a bad thing. Better to openly declare leanings than be a closet supporter of a cause,” tweeted Rahul Kanwal, editor-at-large of the Aaj Tak and Headlines Today channels. Barkha Dutt, group editor of NDTV, responded saying, “Perhaps, but then you definitely can’t be a reporting journalist post that.”

Ashutosh is neither the first journalist to shift to politics nor the first to join the AAP. Manish Sisodia, Shazia Ilmi and Rakhi Birla have earlier made the switch from media to the AAP. Sisodia and Birla are ministers in the AAP government in Delhi while Ilmi is a member of the AAP national executive.

Six months ago, the big story was the elevation of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, to the extent that the media’s coverage was criticised as excessive and aiding Modi’s campaign.

Can the same be said of the current media coverage of the AAP?

Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of the IBN18 network, says, “The media mirrors a particular political reality at a particular moment. It is in constant search of newness. The monsoon belonged to Narendra Modi, and the winter has belonged to Arvind Kejriwal as the challenger. Who knows what the summer will bring?”

Vinod Mehta, editorial chairman of the Outlook Group, adds, “The media is reflecting the national mood. It is also a reflection of the media’s own mood. Those in the media are not zombies or detached from their larger surroundings.” Mehta himself appears sympathetic towards the AAP, though he says he would not line up to join the party. “The party has delivered on promises so far…I am a supporter as I see in the AAP something I want to see, but will turn a critic when I don’t see it.”

The other factor in the AAP’s coverage is that of class. Journalists belong to the urban middle and upper-middle classes which are the AAP’s main support base. Do they, however, let their own sympathies determine coverage? Sardesai admits, “There is an ideological and a class factor that has entered the coverage of the AAP.”

Ashutosh himself is an illustration of these blurred lines. Tracing his own involvement, he told HT, “I covered the anti-corruption movement from the ground for 13 days, and could see a new energy among people, and wrote a book about it. That momentum has got a new face in the new party, and I decided to jump into it.” But did his beliefs affect the coverage in the channel he headed? “This is a very fair, though tough, question. I never hid my sympathies and alignment with the movement.

But I did not let my personal beliefs mix with my professional judgment. I was critical of the mistakes in the movement, and the channel gave space to all viewpoints.”

Defending his former colleague, Sardesai points out that the real problem is those who have undeclared biases, but use their positions to bat for a particular side.
“Many people in journalism have been embedded with particular leaders and particular parties, while pretending to be neutral and independent observers.”

Another senior journalist pointed out that at key moments in political history – freedom struggle, Emergency, Mandal reservations, Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the Gujarat riots – journalists have often taken sides. The 2014 election is taking place in a polarised atmosphere, and the newsroom is but a reflection of that.