February 23, 2020
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We Doth Protest Much

Once a media darling, AAP now finds that vested interests, loss of lustre is keeping it out

We Doth Protest Much
We Doth Protest Much

Raghav Chadha: CNN-IBN invited us. Was waiting at studio only to be told that Big Boss has decided to drop AAP (January 12)

On Times Now, there are two spokespersons representing the same party i.e. BJP, to counter one man Raghav Chadda (AAP) (January 13)

@aapYogendra: First they ignore you: Pre Dec 2013 Then they ridicule you: Post Feb 2014 Then they fight you: 10th Jan, 2015 Then you WIN: 10th Feb, 2015 (January 12)

Once the media’s darling, now a favourite punching bag. The three tweets sum up the AAP’s anguish with the media and the media’s disenchantment with the party. Raghav Chadha, the young spokesperson of AAP who was called to the studios of CNN-IBN on January 12, only to be told at the last minute that his presence was not required, vented his anguish on Twitter. There is no need to show AAP, was the diktat of the seniormost editors, many of whom are Reliance India Limited (RIL) officials, the channel’s proprietor since June 2014. Will the blacklisting extend till D-day? How will the channel show the final results if it excludes the party identified as the chief opposition of the BJP? Will the party not be named on the scoreboard?

Now, listen to Dharna Kumar on Radio Mirchi, a subsidiary of the Times Group, and his relentless lampooning of AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. It makes you laugh, of course, but at the same time you wonder, why are there no spoofs on BJP boss Narendra Modi? Surely, Modi’s personality traits can be the subject of some mirth? Dharna (agitate in Hindi) is a no-holds-barred reference to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal—more specifically his past tendency to agitate at the drop of a hat and hit the streets protesting. From cricket to more wide-ranging issues, Dharna Kumar holds AAP responsible for everything wrong in the country—all for a laugh, of course.

It is easy to understand the party’s hurt in the winter of 2015. Only four years ago, an anti-corruption movement started by Anna Hazare had galvanised the country and the media, waking them from their stupor. Many in the media openly sympathised with the movement and its band of men and women ready to take on the mighty of the land. Nothing was sacred for them. Disenchant­ment with the economy was in the air and all it needed was a few men and women to channelise and give it focus. With music and fiery speeches against the ruling Congress party and the corporates who supported them, they wowed the crowds that came thronging. The media could ill afford to ignore the wave.

Will the blacklisting extend till the final day? How will the TV channel show the final results if it excludes the main oppn....

Indeed, for the struggling electronic media, it was pure oxygen-yielding high TRPs that translated into ad revenues. But it was only a matter of time before the tide would turn against the crusaders. By then, though, some of the crusaders had morphed into the Aam Aadmi Party. As with Anna’s movement, not­hing was sacred for the party. In its zeal to expose corruption, the party even targeted the media for following their corporate masters. Those critical of AAP’s tactics were seen as traitors and those who supported them were seen as friends by a party which was finding it hard to shed its activist mode.

What the AAP didn’t realise was that the media too was undergoing a change. Market leaders Times Now, which was supporting every move of the crusaders till the, turned away from the Aam Aadmi Party. The channel had its own compulsions and was battling a high-profile defamation suit served by a former Supreme Court judge.

A stung AAP decided to boycott the channel. For days, all one saw was an empty chair on Times Now studio discussions. CNN-IBN, a close second in the viewership stakes then was also changing around 2012. RIL had decided to lend a helping hand to the cash-starved network but with the help came new rules of engagement with news. AAP as a political party was openly attacking RIL on issues ranging from gas pricing to power and for the company’s collusion with the UPA government, much to the annoyance of senior officials at the company who preferred to blacklist the party. Should a channel, professing high standards of journalism, practice exclusion while disseminating news? That’s a question no one seems to be asking.

The news business, media watchers will tell you, is notorious for its herd instinct. So when the market leader changes its colour, the rest follow suit. Times Now dropped its preference for AAP and so did the rest. For the middle class which had come to the streets to support the movement against corruption and had voted for Arvind Kejriwal, his quitting after months on the issue of non-acceptance of his Jan Lok Pal bill was a difficult pill to take. His support to the law minister in his cabinet Somnath Bharti who, it appeared, had instigated a mob against some hapless African women was also too difficult to digest. As sociologist Dipankar Gupta says, “The media  is the middle class and as the middle class quickly soaked in the calumny against Arvind Kejriwal, the media too reflected that. Some of the things he did were seen as distasteful by the middle class.”

While Dipankar wonders how many in the middle class will stand up and say, “I am Kejriwal,” in the coming days, the AAP leader has his work cut out for him. He has to battle both the BJP and the media.

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