I happened to be at Jantar Mantar – the fast venue of Team Anna members – Friday night. There, when my friend introduced me to another pal of his as ‘Deepak from Zee News’, the first question that was thrown at me was – ‘Where is the media, man?’
Probably, this question sums up the mood among Team Anna members and their supporters – that the media has ‘ditched’ them.
Not very long ago, during the first protest fast at Jantar Mantar in April last year, the electronic media – English as well as Hindi – gave them 24X7 coverage, with almost every speech, whether of Anna Hazare or just about anyone present there, being telecast live to an audience hooked on to their TV sets, apart from the thousands who were present there to support the cause.
It was the first ‘glamourised’ part of the Lokpal movement that occupied every available slot on TV news channels because it was bringing in TRPs. Also, because the motives of Team Anna appeared to be genuine t
o everyone at that point of time and many saw Anna Hazare as the new avatar of Mahatma Gandhi.
In August, after the government ‘ditched’ Team Anna on its Lokpal promise and joint committee meetings proved to be just an eyewash, the anti-corruption crusaders launched their second round of protests and Anna even went to jail. The scenes which one witnessed on that rainy morning of August, when Anna and his team travelled to Ramlila Maidan from Tihar Jail in a mesmerising procession that consisted of the ‘common man’ from every walk of life will probably never be forgotten. The electronic media was there in full force to cover history being made, from Tihar to Ramlila and at Ramlila for the next several days until another government promise came.
But between Ramlila and the December protest at Mumbai’s MMRDA Ground, a lot many things changed. Frustrated by the government’s repeated failure to keep its word, many Team Anna members started attacking the government and its constituents. Some called ministers dacoits, rapists and cheaters, while others mocked at them at public functions. In fact, the rest of the Parliamentarians weren’t spared either, and from that very moment, Team Anna’s support started to wane.
While the common man (to be specific, Mumbaikars) showed his disenchantment at MMRDA itself where Anna Hazare was forced to wind up his fast midway amid lack of crowds (also due to health concerns), the media (read: electronic, because that brings in crowds) decided to review its strategy on covering the anti-corruption movement.
The big question that confronted them was: Should we show Arvind Kejriwal calling Parliamentarians ‘rapists and looters’? While the government was no holy cow, Team Anna’s actions began to appear ‘unjustified’.
The first step that channels took was to run a disclaimer, absolving themselves from any responsibility for the controversial remarks.
But as the tirade continued and it started to become clear that the Congress-led UPA government was their main target in the quest for Lokpal, the media had to go in for an image makeover – from being a ‘supporter’ of Team Anna to an ‘outsider’ objectively analysing the events.
That was the end of 24X7 coverage of Team Anna, which even tried to ‘subvert’ the democratic process by campaigning against the Congress in the Hisar bypolls without even being active participants, and backing opposition candidates who weren’t necessarily clean.
With Team Anna itself losing focus from its single objective of ‘Lokpal Bill’ and foraying into various other issues, e.g. electoral defeat for Congress, SIT against ‘corrupt’ ministers, joining hands with Baba Ramdev’s anti-black money campaign etc, media too was forced to change its outlook towards their movement.
It could not be seen as supporting of a people’s movement which had begun to turn autocratic – with demands of flogging the drunk and typecasting of voters as ‘money minded’ – in a country that values its democratic principles.
What also constrained the media from continuing to whole-heartedly back the Team Anna movement was the fact that various corruption allegations were levelled against core team members – some of them appearing to be genuine.
And it’s a fact that a popular movement which begins to lose its mass support of people cannot sustain the interest of the media for long. Because somewhere the movement begins to lose its charm, for many reasons – most important among them being ‘its genuineness’.
From asking uncomfortable questions to government ministers, the media is now telling Team Anna to make its intentions clear – what is it that it actually wants? Lokpal, overthrowing of the ‘corrupt’ Congress government or something else.
The media, in my viewpoint, has not ditched Team Anna. What it has done is moved away from being seen as an ardent supporter of Team Anna to being a more pragmatic, giving weight to the merit of a story than emotions of the masses.
I am 100 percent sure, the day Team Anna manages to give this country a ‘genuine’ Lokpal through ‘genuine’ means, media would be the first one to congratulate them.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)