Rajya Sabha nomination for scribes, media barons: Is independence of journalism under threat?
New Delhi, March 14: There is a thin line that separates a journalist from becoming her/his 'subject'. Unfortunately, that line is blurring day by day as more and more journalists seem to share a "cosy relationship" with politicians and their parties. While there is nothing wrong for a journalist to have political aspirations as stated by noted television journalist Rajdeep Sardesai in his latest blog, problem arises when her/his ambition is fulfilled by a political party whom she/he has openly supported over the years.
The latest instances of Loksatta editor Kumar Ketkar and businessman, media owner and member of Parliament (MP) Rajeev Chandrasekhar being nominated for the Rajya Sabha by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) respectively have once again triggered a debate over the independence of Indian media in the times of fake news and paid editorials. The Rajya Sabha elections for 58 seats are scheduled on March 23.
In the past too many journalists and media barons have walked down the aisle of Parliament, thanks to political parties for gifting them with the plump post of an MP in the Upper House for their "loyalty". A political party can choose and send anyone-- be it a sportsperson, a doctor or an actor--to the Rajya Sabha. Most often Rajya Sabha seats are offered to popular personalities from various fields for their contributions to society. A journalist and a media baron too help a society to grow and evolve.
However, it is their primary responsibility to remain "politically neutral" which clearly comes under the attack when they bite the bait offered by political parties. Over the years, it has been seen that political parties across the board offer Rajya Sabha seats to those journalists, editors and media barons who are "infamous" for constantly espousing their causes through their writings and talks.
Again, a journalist can have a political ideology, but to get a "prize" for it from a political party is a disturbing trend in a democracy where there is a clear line that demarcates the fourth pillar from joining hands with the ruling class.
There are also journalists like Ashutosh, the former editor of IBN7, who left journalism to join politics. Ashutosh's case is different from Ketkar and Chandrasekhar as he has joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and contested elections too. That way anyone in India is free to join politics.
In fact, two top journalists of India have openly expressed their reservations over scribes and media barons accepting Rajya Sabha seats as an "award" for promoting a particular party and its causes. Sardesai in his blog wrote, "It is my unshaken belief that a professional independent journalist must remain just that: an observer and chronicler with strong views but not a player or participant in the tricky game of politics: if you want to join politics, please do so, but quit journalism first."
Veteran journalist Sevanti Ninan emphasised on "journalistic independence" when it comes to nominations of editors and media house owners to the Rajya Sabha. "Every time a journalist or a media owner is nominated to the Rajya Sabha, it evokes a passing bout of hand-wringing over journalistic independence," she wrote in a column published by Scroll.in.
Sardesai, in his blog, revealed that once he too was offered a Rajya Sabha seat by a regional political party, but he declined the offer politely. At a time when the media is facing credibility crisis because of the immense control corporate houses and political parties hold over editors and journalists, a simple but effective answer, "thank you, but no thank you", like Sardesai said while rejecting the plump post will go a long in saving journalism and its freedom.
Will well-known faces of media like Ketkar and Chandrasekhar come to the rescue of journalism by saying "no" to political parties? Or political ambition has already overshadowed the cause of journalism and its ethics?