Veteran editor S Nihal Singh refers in Outlook, to TV’s mass hypnosis in the coverage of Modi’s US visit. Vinod Mehta points in Times of India to the pet hate of Modi of mainstream English journalists: “an article of faith of Modi (and his legion of fans) is that the English media is habitually hostile to him. Nothing can shake this conviction.”
I have referred earlier to the hostility of English media towards Modi. For long years after 2002, NDTV’s Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai continued with their tirade against Modi. Vir Sanghvi, as editor of Hindustan Times repeatedly called Modi a mass murderer. The Hindu portrayed Modi in unflattering terms for more than a decade.
Surely, many will still remember journalists Kumar Ketkar participating in TV debates through 2013-14 vying with Congress spokespersons like the acerbic Mani Shankar Ayyar in their hostility towards Modi. Of course, the changed power equation has converted many of these, including Vinod Mehta (now ‘a 55 per cent admirer’).
When the ranks of converts swelled
Modi’s hectic election campaign drawing massive crowds all over India did bring about a big change in the perception of several journalists. When the campaign culminated in a massive victory for BJP, ranks of the converts swelled.
Modi kept away, especially from the English media. He selected his own time, channel and convenience to accept pre-election interviews for the TV. In each one of these he dominated. Contrast this with the disaster of the TV interview Rahul Gandhi gave to Times Now.
Modi continued with this aloofness even after assuming charge as Prime Minister. He departed from the tradition of picking a favourite media person as his media advisor.
The few dozen free-riders
For decades, prime ministers used to take along journalists in the prime minister’s specially fitted Boeing 747 aircraft. Of course, this crowd was Delhi-centric and had almost the same faces including several newspaper proprietors little known for their journalistic capabilities. These privileged ones needed to pay only for their hotel bills. Modi dispensed with this contingent in his trips abroad. ( I did cover the Bush-Manmohan Singh meeting in July 2005 joining the media contingent in Washington. In October 2006. I was part of the media delegation that accompanied the Prime Minister’s visit to the UK and Finland).
Modi’s US trip witnessed scores of senior journalists from Delhi rushing to New York and Washington at the expense of their own companies. National TV journalists vied with one another in presenting a wide possible coverage of Modi’s visit supported by the Indian diaspora in the US led by prosperous Gujjus. The TV medium set new records in one-sided coverage. There were no attempts at critical evaluation of the results achieved.
As chief minister of Gujarat Modi invited media persons ‘to come, see and feel Gujarat.’ I accepted this and along with three of my colleagues did ‘go, see and feel Gujarat.’ He was accessible and was free to take questions, over two interviews, each lasting around 45 minutes.