What wrong did Punya Prasun Bajpai do?

BY AMITABH SRIVASTAVA| IN Media Practice | 13/03/2014
There is nothing wrong if a politician is suggesting that certain issues should be highlighted or a helpful anchor is giving helpful suggestions for an interview as long as the basic thrust and thought of the interview is not diluted,
feels AMITABH SRIVASTAVA

Was the Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and Aaj Tak anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai talk before telecasting his interview really such a big deal? 

Having been a political journalist for a very long period, I was very curious to watch the video of the Aaj Tak anchor and supposedly the most transparent politician of the country today. 

By evening almost all the TV channels were showing this video to their viewers on prime time. But after watching the contents of the video, frankly I felt terribly let down. It was not clear who the rival channels were trying to expose - Kejriwal or Aaj Tak. 

In the ‘scoop’ leaked out to the media, Kejriwal is heard discussing with Prasun that they should high-light the issue of Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom because it touches the people at large, even though the anchor has his reservations. 

However, the most ‘embarrassing’ issue that the rival channels tried to high-light in the video was his admission that he did not want to talk against corporate houses because it would hurt the sentiments of workers and his potential vote-bank and the friendly anchor appears to agree with him. 

If they were trying to expose Arvind Kejriwal implementing his ‘setting’ formula that he had advocated to the people of Delhi at his oath-taking ceremony at Ramlila Ground, it did not matter. His popularity is not dented even a bit after the exposé -- just look at the unending stream of VIPs joining his party even after the telecast. I am only surprised that the flood of donations to his party has not gone up after the video telecast, as happens after every ruckus involving him. 

And if they were attacking Aaj Tak, the channel has clarified that it had telecast the interview as it was -- without editing. And we have to take their word for it till someone proves them wrong. 

As a senior journalist of some standing, I find nothing ‘unusual’ in the bon-homie between an editor or anchor and politicians. 

Political journalists, at least I can speak with authority about print journalists, know that the best news from politicians is always off-the-record. And journos on the beat have to maintain that faith of the politician because they cannot kill their source by any act of indiscretion. 

Which, by implication means that the on-record interview or quote of the netaji is only what will not harm his interests? If this is SETTING, so be it. If this is NEXUS, so be it. The relationship between a politician and journalists is very fragile. It is a professional necessity. 

There was a time I had to write a political gossip column titled ‘Dilli Durbar’ which appeared thrice a week in an eveninger of Delhi. My column, embellished by cartoons sold like hot cakes in the evening. And obviously, all this was possible because I was not quoting my sources even though all the information was 100 per cent authentic. 

I had clearly told the netas that I knew our relationship was based on faith. I promised not to reveal their names but they had to promise that they would never give me false information. We maintained this trust as long as the column lasted and no one was complaining -- my bosses were happy, the politicians were happy and the readers were happy. We were running a tabloid and we had our distinct identity in the market. 

But I can’t be presumptuous enough to think that what we did was the most ethical thing to do or that we were the only successful print venture. 

During my tenure with the eveninger, Pritish Nandy had taken over as the Editor of the Illustrated Weekly and he gave a new definition to ethics in political journalism. He stated that no talk with a journalist can be off-the-record. He asserted that whenever a politician or any top personality talks to a journalist he knows that he will be quoted and went with a tape-recorder to meet them. 

The reputation of the Weekly and its circulation went sky high. And soon the Weekly acquired a reputation that anyone who wanted to quit his job gave his last interview to Pritish Nandy -- because after his EXCLUSIVE interview, today known as Bhadaas, appeared in print, he would not be allowed to remain wherever he was. The Weekly became the last resort for political ‘martyrdom’ during the stewardship of Pritish Nandy.  

So there we are.  You have a right to take sides in this debate without being labeled an agent of Mukesh Ambani or anyone else. 

 

I feel that there is nothing wrong if a politician is suggesting that certain issues should be high-lighted or a helpful anchor is giving helpful suggestions for an interview as long as the basic thrust and thought of the interview is not diluted.


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