April 12, 2014

On the Road before E Day

Day 11: Junket journalists

Long-drawn election campaigns can be gruelling and can tell the real stars from the amateurs, the truly big politician, with a lion’s heart and an iron constitution, from the poseur. They can also expose the hollowness of some media commentators and talking heads.

This past week, I encountered one such person on a television programme. He sauntered into the outdoor venue, and while the others – all politicians – waited patiently, sipping cups of tea or in one case a diet cola, our man helped himself to three quick glasses of whisky. Then, as soon as the cameras were on, he took off. Mamata Banerjee was an embarrassment to Bengal, he said. The CPI(M) was also an embarrassment. The BJP, under Modi or otherwise, was a national embarrassment. The Congress, under the Gandhi family, was a national embarrassment as well.

In other words, as he digested his beverage of choice, he concluded India was in a mess, these elections were not worth it, and the country may as well as go to the dogs. Ultimately, the bile and cynicism was directed at the voter and citizen.

I was livid. First, I was angry because of the insulting words used for Mamatadi. Frankly, though, that was not the only reason for my anger. Commentators and media-persons are given a platform – television or print – to add to the weight of public discourse, to analyse and assess election trends, to smell the grain from the dust, to help voters make an informed choice.

Parachute journalism, fly in-fly out commentary – where the so-called commentator makes occasional visits to Bengal, or seasonal visits to India, and comes to instant and lazy judgements based on pre-conceived notions and old biases – insults this process. It tarnishes those journalists who actually travel to the ground or work hard on their assessments, and back up their opinions and political preferences with logic, whether one agrees or disagrees with the logic.

Sadly, there are too many people in the media – and the whisky-drinking fellow I found myself with the other day falls in that category – who haven’t outgrown college or even childhood and are perennially chasing transient glibness. Not only do they refuse to age gracefully, they refuse to mature. The result is silly rhetoric floating around as meaningful analysis. Does this fool anyone? The media needs to ask itself.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress