'The negative media campaign just crushed us'

IN Media Practice | 27/06/2014
Yogendra Yadav tells PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA and MOHAMMAD GHAZALI in the second part of their interview with him.
PIX: Yadav campaigning
In this section, Yadav analyses the twists and turns in the media’s relationship with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). He also dwells on his personal experiences with particular journalists when he contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Gurgaon in Haryana, and the phenomenon of "paid news" as it played out in the election.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (PGT): During the India Against Corruption movement led by Anna Hazare, it was evident that much of the media was favourably inclined towards your group, which later became AAP. The media gave huge amounts of space and time to the issues highlighted by AAP, including the issues of crony capitalism and corruption. Yet Arvind Kejriwal himself said—during what was supposed to be a closed door meeting, but which was recorded—that much of the media had been sold or had been bought up. He and others, like you, subsequently sought to clarify that he was not talking about the entire media but only a section of the media, which is corrupt. Was it after this statement that a large section of the media—which had been sympathetic and empathetic towards AAP—turned almost viciously against your party?
YY: That was not the point. I think it would be fair to say that there have been four phases in our relationship with the media. The first phase was during the Anna movement when we were not yet a political party (and I was not at the core of the movement at that time). We were new and had a certain curiosity value. The anti-corruption movement was fresh and was not aligned against any particular political force. It was anti-establishment and therefore it had punch. In a specific political sense, it was harmless. That was the honeymoon period. The media lapped up the Anna movement, although my colleague Prashant Bhushan would say those who covered us had no option but to do so, being smaller channels—it was a small channel that began covering the movement and not the larger ones. It was only after that channel started recording huge TRPs (television rating points) that everyone else followed suit. The fact is that during the Anna movement—between August and December 2012—there was carpet coverage. Even though I sympathised with the movement, I personally thought that the media had gone overboard. Even as a member of AAP, I said publicly that occasionally the media had crossed the boundaries of professionalism in the way it covered the movement. Many in the media were embedded journalists.
PGT: Including some who ended up becoming members of your party and stood for elections; journalists like Ashutosh, who also wrote a book that was extremely adulatory about the Anna movement.  
YY: I think writing a book is perfect. I wasn’t thinking of Ashutosh when I spoke of people who crossed boundaries. I was thinking of some young reporters for whom the boundary between being a reporter and an activist had ceased to exist. That moment ended in December 2012 when the Mumbai agitation failed to draw a crowd. This was phase one. 
“When we held our press conference against Mukesh Ambani, our media coverage had dropped and by the time we spoke on Narendra Modi, coverage had ended.”

The second phase was when Arvind Kejriwal undertook his second fast, which led to the formation of AAP. On this occasion the media coverage was nowhere close to complete adulation. When we became a party, we once again got very good coverage, quite out of proportion to our actual strength, which I suspect was due to our novelty value. However, when Anna separated from AAP we were not portrayed in a favourable light. By then, we had started getting fairly normal media coverage and the tone had occasionally turned quite critical. However, the amount of coverage we got was still out of proportion to our strength. 

Phase two ended with our exposés. The first two exposés were on Robert Vadra and Nitin Gadkari and we received wonderful media coverage. Exposé number three was on Mukesh Ambani. What no one remembers is that by the time AAP did its fourth exposé, on Narendra Modi, media coverage stopped almost completely. When we held our press conference against Mukesh Ambani, our media coverage had dropped and by the time we spoke on Narendra Modi, coverage had ended.
PGT: What were the issues you highlighted in the fourth expose?
YY: In the fourth exposé, we highlighted Narendra Modi’s connections to the Adanis, especially the land deal between the Gujarat government and the business house. There was also the Gujarat gas scam. But no one picked it up. In the aftermath of the press conference, during which we discussed Ambani’s Swiss bank accounts, the media decided to drop the fourth exposé.
Phase three was during the Delhi elections. If you remember, we actually got very bad press during these elections. We did get covered but we were mostly ridiculed. That is the time when two or three television channels actually started a campaign against us—so much so that the party had to boycott those channels.
PGT: Would you like to name these channels?
YY: India News, where Deepak Chaurasia virtually led (and continues to lead) a personal campaign against our party, one that defies journalistic norms. India TV and Zee News are the other channels. All three channels, at different stages, actually launched campaigns against us. So we did not have good media coverage at all during the Delhi elections. Once it became clear that there was a certain attraction towards us on the ground, and surveys picked this up, towards the end of the campaign, the media coverage of AAP went up.
As for the bijli-pani agitation, the media thought this was one more theatrical show put up by AAP and was negative about it. This phase ended with the CD episode, which should go down in the history of Indian media as one of the strangest incidents of its kind.
“All my AAP colleagues contesting elections in Haryana confirmed to me that each of them had been approached with a proper rate card by the local print media and the electronic media.”

A doctored sting report on AAP was run by nearly every television channel for hours on end. We exposed it as fraudulent in 48 hours and proved that the CD had been doctored. The same channels who ran the original report for hours devoted only two minutes to our refutation. This was the sting that insinuated that Shazia Ilmi and Kumar Vishwas were willing to accept money in a wrong way. Only two media houses—NDTV and Network18­­-- exercised restraint. 

Furthermore, all the opinion polls predicted that we would win far fewer seats than we were expecting. I then had to come out of my sanyas (renunciation) from opinion polls and make a forecast, which is not actually the business of a politician. But I did it because I thought I had to protect the party from planned infanticide.
Then came phase four (of the media coverage of AAP). After the Delhi election results were declared, we were suddenly part of the establishment, and once again harmless. Everyone salutes the rising sun.  I would say that this period—which lasted roughly six weeks after the Delhi election results—was akin to the kind of honeymoon with the media that Narendra Modi is enjoying right now. At a press conference that was telecast live, I told journalists that we did not deserve this kind of media coverage. There were silly stories about us. The Times of India had a 600-word story that I had fixed an interactive voice response (IVR) system on my phone since I was getting 600 calls a day.
PGT: But was it not correct?
YY: It was correct. The story was done in good faith, I am not saying it was a dirty story. But did we deserve it? That’s my point. Our second media honeymoon ended with the Somnath Bharti episode; the protest, the dharna and the days after Arvind Kejriwal resigned (as chief minister of Delhi). I personally thought something big was at work and I will again leave it to you to discover what that big thing was. Narendra Modi was off the front pages of newspapers for six weeks. Someone must have been worried. The effort (to project Modi) that had been put in over four and half years was coming to naught and clearly, someone started dialing the phones. Someone started doing something to make sure this trouble (created by AAP) was fixed. It could well be that we contributed by our own mistakes. But I have never seen mistakes of that order being blown out of proportion the way they were then. Somnath Bharti was not accused of sex trafficking or corruption. The worst accusation you could have leveled against him was that he was insensitive to those African women. (Some residents in the Khirkee Extension area of Delhi had complained to Bharti, who was the AAP MLA for the area, about a drug and prostitution racket allegedly being run by African nationals, and Bharti got controversially involved in the matter).
PGT: He was almost racist and insensitive in his reaction.
YY: If you look at what BJP ministers may have done already (in the new government), you will get that kind of masala almost every second day. I am not saying that the media should not have reported the Bharti episode. It is, of course, their job to do so. But the way Somnath Bharti became the centre of a national media campaign was extraordinary. The way in which the media covered the dharna, and finally the resignation, of Arvind Kejriwal as chief minister of Delhi, charging him with being a bhagoda (one who ran away), shows clearly that someone -- I will never know who it was -- wanted AAP fixed.
PGT: Was it someone or some group? Who can that someone be, is that someone Narendra Modi, Mukesh Ambani or somebody else?
YY: All I can say is that someone thought that all their efforts of the last four and half years were coming to naught and they acted very quickly. That someone had the backing of a person who has unlimited money. These two things came together, and suddenly everyone in the media turned against us.
PGT: When exactly did this happen?
YY: This was after the Somnath Bharti incident and we could not do anything about it. Everything we did, small or big, came under an unfavourable scanner. 
“An Indian Express reporter picked up three words from the 5th minute of my speech and joined it with something I said in the 22nd minute of my speech by putting three dots in between and this became the headline: Modi PM ban jayega… Aag lag jayegi

Mohammad Ghazali (MG): Before and during the Delhi elections of 2013, AAP and Arvind Kejriwal got a great deal of media coverage, as compared to other parties contesting that election. But during the general elections, when the media started covering Modi and sidelined AAP, your party started complaining.  

YY: It is true that we got a lot of media attention then, although it was not necessarily positive attention. A lot of it was very negative and so hostile that on the night before polling in Delhi, a half-hour programme ran on one of the channels saying that Arvind Kejriwal had cheated his uncle in some land deal.
In the case of Narendra Modi, no one can complain about the fact that that he got more coverage in the media than Rahul Gandhi or Arvind Kejriwal. I think it’s the kind of attention he got, in which the line between reporting and propaganda was blurred…this is actually what our complaint is all about. It was the tone of the coverage (that we objected to) and to call it positive would be an understatement.
MG: When you start boycotting certain channels, don’t you think that you provide them with a chance to run a negative campaign against you, as there is no party representative on that channel to present your version? For example, we always saw Professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy on Times NOW defending the party instead of the party spokesperson.
YY: We never decided to boycott Times NOW. We drew a distinction between friendly and unfriendly channels, then between unfriendly and hostile channels, and finally between  hostile channels and those that did a hatchet job on us. We only boycotted those in the last category. Otherwise, there was no reason to boycott anyone. Television channels can occasionally be hostile and Times NOW was indeed perceived to be hostile to us for quite some time. But it was not a channel that crossed professional boundaries, and generated nothing but propaganda against us. That description would fit Deepak Chaurasia’s channel.
I do agree that boycotting the media is a very bad strategy and should be resorted to only when every other remedy has been exhausted, and that’s exactly what we did. In the case of Zee News, one guest coordinator rang me up to say that his editor wanted to speak to me and invite me to a programme. I declined. He asked me why, and I said that your channel has been very unprofessional…They actually recorded that conversation and played it on air. That is what I meant when I said the limit had been crossed.


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