A tale of two interviews

BY Rana Ayyub| IN Media Practice | 16/04/2014
If Ansari did not probe Rahul on the charges levelled against Robert Vadra, nor did Rajat Sharma grill Modi on Snoopgate or Kejriwal's charges regarding the Adani group.
RANA AYYUB rues two wasted opportunities. PIX: Rahul Gandhi during his interview on Headlines Today

The two main contenders for the post of the country’s prime ministership -- Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi-- cut a sorry picture on Saturday night as they gave interviews to mainstream news channels.

Rahul Gandhi’s interview on Headlines Today by one of its senior editors Javed Ansari had the channel playing promos with the Gandhi scion in various moods, and his dimpled smile. Rahul Gandhi’s highly anticipated debut television interview to Times Now last month was poorly perceived -- with him fumbling for responses to the most basic questions in a brilliantly conducted interview by Arnab Goswami. Unlike the over the top image credited to him, Arnab Goswami managed to pull the carpet from beneath Gandhi’s feet by posing some damaging questions to which an inexperienced Rahul’s response was the oft repeated statement on women empowerment.

So when Headlines Today played on its promo of Rahul Gandhi’s first candid interview, it was expected that the 42-year- old might finally break his silence on some of the most turbulent issues facing the party. Most importantly, the discordant notes within his party, his relation with the PMO and the damning revelations in the recently released book by Sanjaya Baru which showed the Gandhi family in a very poor light. Was it recorded before the book was released? However the high point of the HT interview was Rahul’s lavish display of a dimpled smile and a blush when Javed Ansari sweetly and naively asked him about his marriage plans and the lakhs of girls in the country who were besotted with him. Not once did Ansari, the man who at the India Today Conclave late last year was made to ask Modi the very important Gujarat riot question, decide to probe, or cross question Rahul on his party’s inefficiency in dealing with some of the harshest criticism.

Not once did Ansari ask him about tearing down the ordinance on convicted parliamentarians inspite of being the Vice President of the party. Not once did Ansari probe Rahul on the corruption charges levelled against his brother-in-law Robert Vadra. Not once was Rahul asked on the schism in the Congress party and the issues between the old and new guard. Instead, at display was Rahul giving rehearsed and long, boring, uninterrupted responses that have been oft repeated in his speeches. Javed Ansari looked disconnected through the interview except towards the end when the subject shifted to Rahul’s matrimonial prospect.

If the Headlines Today interview was a complete washout, Rajat Sharma’s Modi edition of Aap ki Adalat took Indian journalism down by several notches. Rajat Sharma who has a distinctive style of grilling his celebrity guests, lacing his questions with mock sarcasm and humour, has been accused in the past of going easy on many of his guests and the judge and his verdict being fixed. Many saw it as a misreading of Rajat’s unique manner and style of questioning. However, in this case the aggression and sarcasm which Sharmahad displayed in his interview with Arvind Kejriwal, was missing.

Right after Kejriwal’s appearance on Aapki Adalat, Niti Central, the self confessed Centre Right news portal said, “Rajat Sharma exposes Kejriwal's anti-corruption crusade”. There was a furore as the video went viral across the social media, calling it an episode where Kejriwal was truly grilled.

It was then very disappointing, when on a Saturday night, millions across the country who waited with bated breath to witness Modi’s first public scrutiny found that it turned out to be a carefully scripted and rehearsed sham. Displaying a composure which seemed to be lifted straight from Simi Grewal’s popular ‘Rendezvous’ with her guests,  Sharma regaled the audience as he led them after every two questions to a Modi chant. The morning after it was aired the editorial director of India TV Qamar Waheed Naqvi resigned from his post raising doubts about the interview being a part of a PR exercise. Papers reported next morning that this resignation was seen as a protest against an allegedly “fixed” interview of Modi. Rajat Sharma confirmed Naqvi’s resignation to media houses stating, “He sent a one-line email announcing his resignation,” adding that “he didn’t mention anything about any interview in his email, nor did he raise this with me”.

Naqvi who was formerly one of the top bosses at Hindi news channel Aaj Tak has apparently communicated to his associates and colleagues in the media that he quit in protest against the “scripted” interview of Modi. He had joined the channel only six months ago in a bid to bring in his expertise to counter Aaj Tak’s dominance in the Hindi news domain. Was the interview scripted?

In a packed studio, with an audience that did not have a single voice of criticism, periodic chants of “Modi, Modi” and the visibly rehearsed answers by the Prime Ministerial candidate of the principal opposition party in the country made it difficult to distinguish if Modi was being grilled or was being given a platform to display his theatrics. Those theatrics which are a regular feature of his rallies, given live coverage by most television channels. Rajat Sharma grilled Modi with his soft ball questions including some on the Congress party and ten-year UPA rule.The set up was deceptive. The smiling Adalat host developed complete amnesia over the Snoopgate scandal with Modi’s second in command Amit Shah giving orders of stalking a woman allegedly at his behest. Sharma forgot the existence of Zakia Jaffery, the widow of ex MP Ahsan Jaffery, who has questioned Modi’s clean chit by the SIT.

He chose not to remind Narendra Modi of the charges levelled by Arvind Kejriwal on him about favouring the Adani group of industries in Gujarat. Modi was the emperor uncrowned, he beamed and waved at the audience as the theatre of absurdity played out. The performance came second only to feminist and self-confessed admirer of Modi, Madhu Kishwar’s recorded interviews with Narendra Modi. English news channel News X aired an hour-long interview, a part of a documentary made by Kishwar during her year-long research as claimed by her. The monologue with Kishwar’s periodic giggles, laced with footage of Modi on his tours and his talk of developing Gujarat, had social media tear apart the pretence of an interview.

In a span of a month, two interviews have highlighted the state of media that has been spoken of in whispers or highlighted in some rather generic statements by Arvind Kejriwal while attacking media houses and their corporate interests. Kejriwal’s statements can be easily contested by the footage of blanket coverage his party received before and during the Delhi assembly elections which saw his party emerge victorious. But what he did, rather efficiently, was to capture the discontent within the fraternity which has been facing one of its most crucial phases in its history. The churning that has been spoken about in intellectual circles and private dinners is indeed being witnessed with editors and reporters being exiting for various reasons

While Sidharth Vardarajan and Hartosh Singh Bal two senior editors resigned publicly citing political reasons, other resignations are still shrouded in mystery. Kumar Ketkar, the group editor of the Marathi daily Dainik Divya Marathi resigned in December last year. The reason for his resignation has largely remained unknown and Ketkar has maintained a stoic silence over the issue. But those in the know suggest a shift in editorial line taken by the management that did not take very kindly to Ketkar’s criticism of Narendra Modi on TV news debates.

The two interviews conducted last week lend credence to the belief that the media had taken clear sides. There is nothing new about this phenomenon, India has witnessed this before. What one did expect was a semblance of acknowledgement by the media houses that in times of 24/7 news channels, when news and opinions were freely available on social media, that the bias of media bending over backwards to provide a platform to aspiring representatives of this country would be felt more acutely. Has it set a precedence that has come back to haunt it much sooner than it expected?

Such articles are only possible because of your support. Help the Hoot. The Hoot is an independent initiative of the Media Foundation and requires funds for independent media monitoring. Please support us. Every rupee helps.
Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More