All exit polls were unanimously predicting the return of Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP to power in Delhi. And Sudhir Chaudhary, editor-in-chief of Zee News, was having a public meltdown. “If Pakistan PM Imran Khan had decided to contest the Delhi polls with the promise of freebies,” Chaudhary said in a tone of high moral injury, “the average Delhiite would have voted for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf”. A few days later, when the exit poll predictions proved right, Chaudhary repeated the slur and claimed the Delhi voter cared more about free electricity, water and bus rides than the integrity of India.
This scene has played and replayed itself a countless number of times in our public lives in recent years. These have been dramatic and fateful times for media. Once it carried a humbler self-image: that of a mere messenger who does not mould the message itself, a neutral conduit of news. Just the free enactment of that function was to earn it the grand descriptor of ‘the fourth pillar of democracy’. Now it entertains a more aggrandised view of itself. It is by itself a form of power. It freely takes sides, like satraps aligning or breaking with rising or waning empires. Partisanship is not new, but the method used to be ‘show, don’t tell’. Now, across the spectrum, from Arnab Goswami to Ravish Kumar, it’s all tell, tell, tell. A monodrama filled with soliloquies.