Jatin Desai

A lesson for the news media professionals

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The way US journalists presented themselves and asked questions to US President Donald Trump in his press conference on Wednesday has raised a debate in the media circles all over the world. It is a lesson for all news media journalists on how to be objective and courageous when they are being verbally attacked.

The way a section of Indian media presented themselves last year when PM Narendra Modi met them on Diwali Milan needs some introspection in view of what happened in Washington. Modi hardly interacts with journalists. When Modi met journalists on Diwali Milan, a section of them rushed to get selfies with him instead of asking him questions. The point is how can journalists be objective when they keep themselves busy taking selfies with the smiling PM?

The Trump press conference was held in the background of midterm elections in which Democrats won the majority in the House of Representatives and Trump’s own Republican won majority in the Senate. A heated exchange took place between Trump and journalists including CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Trump called some of them ‘hostile’. He told Acosta, “CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person”.

The CNN correspondent was raising question about caravan of migrants heading from Latin America to the southern US border and asked Trump why he is characterising it as ‘an invasion’. A female White House aide unsuccessfully tried to grab the microphone from Acosta. It is the duty of the journalists to ask questions to the authorities on issues concerning common people. Only embedded journalists ask questions, which are soft in nature and please authorities. In my career as a reporter, I have witnessed many instances when authorities find it difficult to answer complex questions some reporter (embedded) intervenes, and cracks some silly jokes. It provides an opportunity for the authorities to get away from the question.

The President told Acosta, “I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN and if you did it well, your ratings would be much better”. Then Acosta tried to question Trump on Russia investigation. Trump responded by saying. “That’s enough. That’s enough”. NBC News reporter Peter Alexander tried to help Acosta saying, “He is a diligent reporter”. Trump responded, “Well, I am not a big fan of yours, either.” When American Urban Radio Networks April Ryan tried to ask a question, Trump ordered the lady reporter to sit down and said, “It’s such a hostile media”.

Shockingly, very next day, the White House suspended the press pass of CNN’s Acosta. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that Acosta’s pass was being suspended because “he placed his hands,” on a White House intern who was trying to take the microphone from him. Acosta termed it as a blatant lie. The White House defended sharing a video on social media that had been altered to make Acosta’s action towards the intern look objectionable. CNN in a statement said that the White House’s decision of revoking Acosta’s press pass is ‘retaliation for challenging questions’. Some journalists called the suspending press pass as a blatant abuse of Presidential power. Reporters have expressed solidarity with Acosta.

In August, Trump blasted more than 350 newspapers across the US who came together in defence of press freedom. He called them ‘opposition party’. The US President has repeatedly undermined the importance of media. He called some newspapers as ‘fake news’. From the beginning of his term, the relation between all powerful Trump and media was never cordial. On February 18 2017, Trump tweeted,” THE FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCnews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, It is the enemy of the American people!”

The fact is journalists and media have to play a role of opposition party. They need to ask questions to people in power, whosoever they are. The US journalists are playing that role and so Trump is against them. No ruler likes media asking questions.

Unfortunately, the scenario is quite different in India. Journalists should not be too close to the people in power. When some journalist becomes too close to the PM or CM, he/she loses his/her own objectivity and credibility. Embedded journalism is becoming a reality and that is a major concern. It also deprives readers/viewers from their right to know. Only non-compromising attitude can bring credibility to journalism.

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