On the back of Arvind Kejriwal’s off-the-record comments going viral, Annurag Batra in his column Media Mantras mulls how politicians shoot from the lip, only to retract their statements later. He believes it’s not just politicians who should be careful but also media organizations
MADE IN THE TELEVISION STUDIO
Indian politicians, both seasoned and novices, are known for their foot-in-the-mouth comments. Even esteemed politicians never fail to astonish us, especially before the elections, when the political discourse heats up. A number of leaders have come under sharp criticism for their shooting from-the-hip takes, forcing them to retract, deny or issue clarifications.
Such comments create a flutter since they are made on public forums. Politicians remain public figures – despite us wondering from under which rock their unusual, sometimes outrageous, comments crawled out.
The recent controversy involving Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal – where he is seen trying to influence a news anchor – has come as a shock to many of the party’s supporters. The video, which appears to be shot partly during a break in the interview and partly at the end, went viral across social media recently.
Kejriwal is seen speaking to popular Aaj Tak channel news anchor Punya Prasoon Bajpai in Hindi. He says he does not want his statement on the “corporate vala” played up because the middle class would turn against them. “If we say that, hum sare private sector ko nakar denge, which is not right,” Kejriwal says.
When the anchor prompts further, asking him about the “haashiyon pe 80% samaj” (society on the margins) remark, since that is the real vote-bank, Kejriwal says he will speak on that issue, especially if the party is working for them.
At what seems to be the end of the interview, Kejriwal asks Bajpai to play up a certain part: “Run that part more,” he says.
Bajpai appears to agree, saying: “No, no that will run, that Bhagat Singh part, there will be strong reaction to that.” Kejriwal’s comments have raised a question mark over his real stand on privatization. He had said while addressing members of the Confederation of Indian Industries recently that he was not against private business. However, as Chief Minister of Delhi, he had overturned Sheila Dikshit’s decision to approve FDI.
Defending Kejriwal, and AAP spokesperson said, “The interview was shown live and without any cuts, and this is purely an attempt by vested interests to malign us. Arvindji has not said or done anything wrong, and this is a desperate attempt to show him in poor light.”
Aaj Tak issued a statement saying the clip was being circulated as part of a motivated campaign to malign its reputation. “The Kejriwal interview was aired live in full on February 14, 2014 on all platforms of the India Today Group. In the conversation, Arvind Kejriwal is asking the anchor to highlight parts of the interview. The India Today Group wishes to categorically state that no part of the interview was edited by our network,” it said.
Aaj Tak stated that even the repeat telecasts carried unedited footage, and that it has maintained its lead as the most-watched news channel in India for 13 years, by upholding the highest standard of journalistic integrity.
Despite denial from both the sides, the fact remains that politicians should be careful when it comes to comments that reflect theirs, and the ideology of their party. This is especially true ahead of elections, when such comments can actually ruin the party’s chances, by turning voters away.
The current controversy assumes added significance, especially because it has broken in the middle of the election season. This does not mean that someone deliberately recorded the conversation to embarrass Kejriwal — recording usually begins and ends a little before and after each session. A key and unanswered question is how the clip — the unedited tape is property of the media organization — got leaked. This also leads one to seriously consider the menace of paid news, especially during polls.
As public figures, politicians should refrain from making comments off the record. But, in a country like India, such idealism may not hold true — especially when it comes to our leaders. Most of them have been accused of hypocrisy, displaying “politically correct views” and going off the record endorsing the opposite views.
But this can only harm their own chances. Today’s electorate are educated and smart, and are watching the leaders keenly – especially those like Kejriwal, who gained immense popularity, public support and faith in the last couple of years.
Before this footage went viral, Kejriwal had accused the media of being biased. At a recent rally, he had said, “Modi snatched land from farmers and gave it to Adani, the media never told you. That Kejriwal has taken a house with three bed rooms they will run the entire day. What crime have I committed? I haven’t taken a bungalow.” he had said.
It was after these comments that the video showing him asking for emphasis to be given to certain sections of his interview went viral, revealing the double-talk by a man who calls himself “principled and a believer of clean politics”.
One thing is clear from the above controversy: Politicians should choose their remarks with care, not carelessness. Because, whether they may believe it or not, the voters – especially the middle class who they are trying to influence – are not fools.
More importantly, media organizations and media owners have to be more careful on how editorial colleagues conduct themselves, and build checks and balances. It’s the journalist who does it as an individual, but the media organization has to carry the can.
Feedback: Category: Media Mantras Volume No: 10 Issue No: 40
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