The Congress on Thursday released a video mocking Indian journalism even as party president Rahul Gandhi was criticised for calling news agency ANI’s Editor Smita Prakash a “pliable journalist” a day after her interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the video, the Opposition party put together various interviews of the prime minister over the last four years with television journalists who praise him during the interviews instead of asking tough questions. The video was accompanied with the caption: “Pliable isn’t offensive, it is the state of Indian journalism today.”
Though Prakash was commended by some for asking tough questions, Gandhi, during a press conference on the controversial Rafale jet deal on Wednesday, criticised her. “He [Modi] does not have the guts to come and sit in front of you,” Gandhi said. “And I come here... you can ask me any question... I come here every seven-ten days. You saw the prime minister’s interview yesterday... matlab pliable journalist, woh question bhi kar rahi thi, pradhan mantri ka answer bhi de rahi thi side mein [A pliable journalist, she was asking the questions and was also giving him the answers].”
The Editors Guild of India expressed concern about Gandhi’s remarks, pointing out that labelling of journalists has emerged as a “favourite tactic” for the establishment to discredit, delegitimise and intimidate the press. “We have seen our political class use this for some time now,” the guild said in a statement. “In the recent past, top BJP leaders as well as those of AAP have used unambiguously abusive expressions such as ‘presstitute’, news-traders, ‘bazaaru’ [saleable commodities] or ‘dalals’ [pimps] for journalists.”
The guild criticised the tendency to intimidate journalists. “Combined with ploys such as boycotts, denial of access and lately government accreditation, this adds up to a reprehensible strategy to throttle media freedoms,” it added.
Moments after the press conference on Wednesday, Prakash said it was a “downright absurd” to ridicule her. “Dear Mr Rahul Gandhi, cheap shot at your press conference to attack me,” she tweeted. “I was asking questions not answering....Not expected of a president of the oldest political party in the country.”
In a statement, the Press Club of India, the Indian Women’s Press Corps and the Press Association said the media expects the political class to be restrained while commenting on it. “Terms like ‘presstitute’ used by a former union minister and more recently ‘pliable’ by the president of a political party for the media are inappropriate and lower the dignity of discourse in general,” they said.
The Delhi Journalist Association said badmouthing a journalist simply because she conducted an interview with a rival political leader “is in poor taste and amounts to shooting the messenger”.