Media needs to stop punching AAP
Let's leave the legal niceties to the lawyers because this is not about freedom of the press at all.
The formidable beast that is the news media has one foot in and out of Delhi's establishment. The media is expected to be a watchdog over the same elite upon whom they rely on as sources. It's a tricky dance at the best of times and requires a give-and-take attitude that often crosses into allegiance to personalities or parties. For the media the India Against Corruption movement and then the AAP was most useful when it was a threat to Delhi's establishment and could be useful for bringing the political elite down a peg or two to the realm of humility. But the AAP soon outgrew that role and became a genuine threat to the political class and the balance of power. Arvind Kejriwal, anti-establishment to his core, did not get where he got by playing by the old rules, he did not believe in give-and-take with the media or anyone else, he and the AAP were a threat to everything and everyone that prospered within the cosy shelter of Lutyens' Delhi. Thus, the AAP became the enemy.
Kejriwal resigned prematurely the first time around and the media lambasted him for it. Fair enough. The AAP overextended itself in the 2014 General Elections and only won four seats. The media declared the AAP dead. Fair enough. Kejriwal took full control and began an unrelenting second Delhi campaign that took him to every nook and cranny of Delhi. The media ignored him completely. Fair enough. Kejriwal's jan sabha crowds began to swell. The media, still enraptured with Modi mania, refused to pay heed. Fair enough. Then the polls began to show the AAP heading for victory. The BJP panicked and brought their entire Union cabinet onto the streets of Delhi and its twin master strategists pulled Kiran Bedi out of the hat. Media declared it a masterstroke and insisted the AAP was surely vanquished now. Fair enough. Kiran Bedi flopped, so the BJP's master strategists went negative and began to fling mud at the AAP in the last two weeks of the campaign to an unprecedented scale for a state election, with the PM joining in the mud-slinging as well. Much of the media seemed to be playing entirely to the tune of the BJP's master strategists. It was starting to push the boundaries of being fair, but it was an election and the AAP was now in the big leagues, so that was fine too.
Then the AAP committed the unforgivable sin of not just winning but handing Prime Minister Modi his first-ever electoral defeat in a sweep of historic proportions. It shook the very foundations of the Modi government less than a year it had swept into office. The establishment's great dream for a future, where the roads were paved with gold and the money grew on trees, was now threatened. Their script had been torn to shreds and if the AAP succeeded in governing Delhi, the party would conceivably be in a position to expand to the rest of the country. The AAP had to be contained.
As it happens the AAP provided the perfect opportunity for its detractors by transitioning from victory to dissension in the blink of an eye. It was a necessary fight to clarify contradictions and festering divisions, but it sure was ugly and it played out on front pages every morning, in TV studios every night and on social media round-the-clock. Media had a field day with stings, leaks, accusations and the sheer political chaos. The establishment rejoiced. That Yogendra Yadav was someone whom many in the media thought of as one of their own, made the anti-Kejriwal bias amply clear even among the usually even-handed editors and news anchors. They took it personally. The rebellion did mercifully end but the hits kept on coming. The gloves were off and the AAP was not to be given a minute's respite for its impertinence and unwillingness to play by the rules. Every day some ludicrous charge or other was made, usually by the Delhi units of the BJP and the Congress, fanned further by TV channels with an avowed anti-AAP agenda as dictated by their corporate owners. They were lies plain and simple, mud thrown to distract the AAP government from governing. All limits of decency and morality were crossed with the accusations against Kumar Vishwas last week, brought to us by the last vestige of the Congress misrule in the form of the Delhi Commission for Women. There is absolutely no way the media would have dared carry such a defamatory and baseless accusation if the personage involved had been a senior BJP or a Congress leader. The headline managers of both parties would have likely brought journalistic careers to a swift end. Read Caravan's latest issue if you don't believe me.
It seems a large segment of the media has gotten into the habit of treating the AAP like a punching bag, instantly putting out any and every accusation no matter the credibility of the source or veracity of facts. The assumption being that it was only the AAP, they just complain a bit and then lump it. After all, what can they do? Well, Arvind Kejriwal has finally put his foot down and declared open season on the AAP over. Enough is enough, the AAP is here to stay and drawing a line in the sand. Let's leave the legal niceties to the lawyers because this is not about freedom of the press at all, that is sacrosanct, this is about the AAP demanding fair treatment and equal rules of engagement from the fourth estate. Criticism is an unfettered right, bias is to be expected, but libel and slander is not journalism.