Sundays are usually considered dull days from the point of newsgathering. No wonder you see less focus on developing stories by the channels and more on special programming and features.
This is more or less an established practice in the newsrooms across the world. However, as and when there’s a breaking story, newsrooms also rise to the occasion to respond to the news, relevant to the audience they tend to cater to.
Last Sunday saw considerably high octane drama with two stories largely dominating the news agenda. One was the scheduled release of the juvenile rapist of the 16 December rape victim, Jyoti Singh while the other was what we call in journalistic lingo a ‘diary item’, relating to cricketer and BJP MP, Kirti Azad’s plan to expose corruption in the Delhi District Cricket Association.
With the juvenile rapist case, the Supreme Court refused to urgently hear the plea of Delhi Commission for Women’s chief Swati Maliwal, who had moved the SC to seek an immediate stop to the release of Jyoti’s most brutal rapist. The juvenile rapist was released on Sunday afternoon prompting Jyoti’s desperate parents to take to streets in protest.
While Jyoti’s parents were getting arrested near Delhi’s India Gate, Kirti Azad was busy sending shock waves in the corridors of power through his high hitting expose video.
Azad had first announced his intention to reveal the ‘real truth’ behind the corruption allegations involving Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley while talking to jantakareporter.com.
The expose had promised to reveal everything, that would have conclusively proved Jaitley’s guilt in the rampant corruption in the DDCA. Then came reports that the BJP president, Amit Shah, had summoned Azad to persuade him to change his mind as his decision had the potential to embarrass a senior party colleague i.e. Jaitley.
While the media played the Will-he-Won’t-he guessing game, Azad reiterated his resolve by tweeting that nothing was capable of gagging him.
So, amidst unprecedented media glare, Azad, who was also joined by former Indian cricket captain Bishan Singh Bedi, addressed the much publicised news conference at Delhi’s Press Club.
Truth be told, the first half hour of the press conference looked more like Much Ado About Nothing exercise. Since Azad’s announcement had generated unprecedented interest in the media, most channels had cut live to the venue of the press conference, with the exception of the usual suspects Times Now, CNN-IBN and India TV, who chose to pretend nothing had happened at all.
But, even the channels, that were beaming live visuals of Azad’s press conference stopped the coverage midway for a much-needed postmortem concluding how it had turned out to be a damp squib. In the words of a Hindi channel anchor, it was a ‘khoda pahaad and nikli chuhiya (Much ado about nothing)‘ situation.
Just when these channels were busy sounding ‘excited’ and ‘relieved’ over the prospects of Jaitley having emerged unscathed by Azad’s attack, the Darbhanga MP dropped a huge bombshell. He played an eight minute video of December 2012 AGM of DDCA, where members including Azad were seen going jugular in their attacks against Jaitley, who was the then president of the Delhi cricket body.
While the first speaker in the video accused Jaitley of supervising the rampant irregularities in the DDCA, Azad was seen launching a tirade against him for ‘flouting every rule in the book’. Among his allegations, Azad was seen accusing Jaitley of forging documents to ensure proxy members (175 of them). He also angrily told Jaitley he had no faith in him as he had repeatedly failed to pay heed to his complaints in the past.
But by this time even the channels, which broadcast the early part of Azad’s press conference had moved on to other stories. One or two channels that had begun taking live feed from the Press Club also suddenly dropped the idea as soon the verbal duel between Azad and Jaitley appeared to turn ugly.
And with that, the channel’s interest in Azad’s press conference evaporated angering a large section of social media users. Many were left baffled as to why the channels which had happily broadcast most part of the press conference had suddenly concluded there was no editorial value in the 8 minute long video played by Azad. The decision to not broadcast the ‘revealing’ video was questioned by many.
Having led significantly large editorial teams in Indian media, it didn’t take me long to conclude what may have been the contributing factors behind this sudden withdrawal of media coverage of this press conference particularly at a juncture, which proved to carry the most damning evidence against Jaitley.
Damning because Jaitley up until now had repeatedly denied any wrong doings in the cricket body during his tenure as the president. The loud and angry protests by angry members including Azad appeared to conclusively prove that not only was he fully aware of the prevalent corrupt practices, but he had also chosen to ignore the complaints received by board members.
Words such as ‘I don’t have faith in you’ and ‘you forged the documents’ used by his senior party colleague against Jaitley will haunt the finance minister for a long time to come. Jaitley, who’s known for his oratory skills and eloquence, surprisingly found himself stuck for words in the face of the verbal onslaught from Azad.
There’s a perceived notion in the political circle and among social media users that Jaitley wields considerable clout over the editorial decisions of most news channels. Only recently, AAP spokesperson, Ashish Khetan, had attacked Arnab Goswami, the anchor of a successful prime time debate show Newshour, on live TV questioning his relationship with Jaitley.
Khetan’s leader and Delhi chief minister had followed it up with a tweet asking Arnab Goswami to come clean on his relationship with the finance minister causing an intense conversation on social media.
A senior editor from a big media group owned by an industrialist told me that a diktat was issued to them to black out the coverage as the content of the press conference had the ‘potential to cause embarrassment to our friend.’
Of course, we at jantakareporter.com, remained resolute and kept providing blow by blow coverage of the press meet to our audience. Anything short of this exercise would have been tantamount to reneging on my promise I made to the audience on 3 May while launching this multimedia platform.
Of course, we are neutral, but we are fiercely against corruption, communalism, bigotry and crimes against child and women. Taking an explicit stand on these issues doesn’t dilute my commitment to neutrality because I don’t think there can ever be two differing views on these issues in any civilised society.
By ‘boycotting’ the conference of Kirti Azad and Wikileaks4india on exposing corruption, the channels let themselves down so spectacularly. They’ve only caused the debate around their rapidly diminishing credibility to gain new momentum. Once again they’ve squandered an opportunity to redeem themselves.
Isn’t it an irony that while Wikileaks4India, an organisation formed by former TV journalists, had exhibited an extraordinary courage to expose corruption involving the high and mighty in India, the same fraternity, which the founders of Wikileaks4India were once part of, had decided to let them down.
Perhaps the channels just summed up why these journalists were no longer part of Indian media industry any longer.