Indian politics has changed, but the national media hasn't quite realised it. Actually, it would be a travesty to call a bunch of Delhi-based channels and newspapers - some of which sell barely a few thousand copies - the "national media". They are the Delhi media and yet they have given themselves national status. Regional language papers and channels, whether in Bengali or Gujarati, Tamil or Hindi, may sell millions more and be watched by millions, more but they will never be considered "national". Like the "regional parties," they are forever consigned to second-rate status in the Delhi media caste system.
The Rajya Sabha has 233 elected members, of which 100 belong to the BJP and the Congress. 60% of the House is from smaller parties, which often act in concert. Recently, for example, anti-Dalit atrocities in Gujarat and elsewhere were raised by the BSP, Trinamool and other parties. Then the attempt to make Aadhaar compulsory for claiming government benefits and availing public services - an imposition that is contrary to earlier commitments by the government and the advice of the courts - was protested against by the SP, the BJD and Trinamool.
The issue of price raise was raised by several of us smaller parties and by the Congress. The media reported it, however, as a Congress versus BJP battle. Generally speaking, regional parties - 60 per cent of the Rajya Sabha as I said - are given scant coverage. Only the Congress and BJP seem to matter. The one exception among the smaller parties is the Aam Aadmi Party, and that too because it is Delhi-based. If AAP were a Bangalore phenomenon or a Mumbai-based party, it would have got the same ignore. For Delhi's media supremacists, there is no India beyond the capital, or at best Gurgaon and Noida.
This may sound like a churlish complaint. It is not, and Trinamool is certainly not pleading for column inches and prime-time space. The fact is this is a snapshot of inadequate knowledge and awareness of political and social issues and churning in the country by a media permanently stationed in Central Hall. I got a taste of this during the 2016 West Bengal election, when Delhi-based journalists were making wild predictions without setting foot in the state and without speaking to anybody other than BJP and Congress and occasionally CPI(M) fat-cats who were and are Delhi fixtures.
Doesn't India deserve better? Doesn't the media industry, now so rich and well-endowed, aspire to higher standards? Isn't there a credibility gap? Does the media have interest in understanding how policy is shaped and legislation is negotiated in Parliament? Can this be done without engaging with and understanding what I term the "middle bloc" - the state parties that occupy the largest space in the Upper House, between the BJP and the Congress?
Not only is the media overwhelmed by the same 10-15 characters and politicians from the two big parties that it meets, interacts with and gets "special briefings" from every day, more dangerously it is becoming self-obsessed. Last week we saw the bizarre sight of an anchor on News Channel A interviewing an anchor from News Channel B about the conduct and views of an anchor from News Channel C. I was aghast.
This is delusional. Who the hell is interested, in this country of a billion people, if a couple of senior journalists have a personality clash or even an argument on principles? It can form the subject of a panel discussion at the Press Club, but how is it prime-time news? The messenger cannot become the message. The media cannot be interviewing each other and reporting on each other. That is what we did when we produced college magazines.
I know much has been said in the past few days about "nationalist" and "anti-national" media. This is a tiresome debate and while I have my views, I don't want to go into them right now. Much more important than this squabble about "nationalist" and "anti-national" is the question of what the Delhi-based media considers "national" and what it considers "regional".
We very easily give these titles and names to media outlets, to politicians and to economic, social and political grievances and concerns. So a short-lived Delhi-Gurgaon flood, which causes only traffic jams, is a "national story". And a week-long flood in say West Bengal or Assam, which displaces thousands and kills maybe 50, is a small-time "regional" story. Wow!
(Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.)
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