Mani Shankar Aiyar media row: India Today reporter on what actually happened
I just tried to do my job and would not hesitate to do it again.
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On December 7, minutes after Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi chided Mani Shankar Aiyar to apologise for his "neech aadmi" remark against PM Narendra Modi, the now-suspended Congress leader issued a carefully crafted apology through the media.
Of course, that didn't settle the storm and various media channels continue to report, analyse, defend and attack Aiyar's remark - basically keeping the controversy alive. But there are some overzealous media outlets which believe in creating new controversies out of any ongoing "breaking news" to win the battle of TRP.
And this is exactly what happened, behind the scenes, while Aiyar was issuing his apology.
So, just after Aiyar landed himself in the fresh trouble with yet another loose remark against the PM, I got a phone call to come to a seminar where he was one of the speakers.
I rushed to the spot in the hope of catching up with the leader before the seminar starts. Since the discussion hadn't started, I asked him whether we could do an interview and this was his reply: "Even though I know you are going to heckle me, I will speak, but only after the seminar."
As journalists we are expected to smell the coffee, have a nose for news and an eye for humour. But getting Aiyar on camera is usually not a great experience, and let me be frank, because of his extremely temperamental nature and his typically loose language.
All my colleagues who were earlier sane,I 'pity' them,now possessed with some kind of spirit to sabotage news according to their channels PR 'a'genda...Their coverage marked with repeated theatrics,drama and literally physical push shove,How do u expect anyone 2 react? pic.twitter.com/cdYwFy0HSd— Mausami Singh (@mausamii2u) December 7, 2017
Shocked at the level some channels stoop to get their TRPs rocking !Shoving Mike on the face of an old leader to get their sensationally sick coverage ! Sad worst kind of 'item' journalism!— Mausami Singh (@mausamii2u) December 7, 2017
Aiyar appeared to be in a foul mood on that day and, in his trademark style, publicly cursed the media for distorting his earlier "chaiwala" remarks as well. Anyhow, I, along with other mediapersons, waited in the seminar room even as we discussed how Aiyar was being so high-handed and that his behaviour was uncalled for.
However, we all agreed that we should wait for him to speak to us, as he promised. Little did I realise that hours later I would be "encircled in red ink" by a certain media outlet for standing my ground.
As the seminar concluded, we approached Aiyar. All of a sudden another reporter, who clearly landed much later, started pushing and shoving us to reach Aiyar first. Even Aiyar was taken aback by this tearing hurry, especially when he was ready to speak to everybody. (Now, here was a leader in the eye of the storm ready to speak to the media.) He even told us to organise ourselves. Despite that, this particularly ambitious reporter continued to pursue Aiyar, shoving the microphone in his face. We repeatedly told him that Aiyar is ready to talk to all of us, but the reporter appeared to be "possessed by the breaking news devil".
He was on live camera mode and was clearly parachuted onto the venue by his studio to "sensationalise" the coverage.
We could faintly hear voices coming out of his earpiece, perhaps instructions and questions being dictated to him. As he reluctantly struggled to carry forward the barrage of orders, he paused, then ran right and left around Aiyar.
I realised that he was acting as a soldier remote-controlled in a war zone. He was under tremendous pressure to perform for the "general" who otherwise would issue a "marching order". The rest of us were trying to get Aiyar to sit at one place to talk. We were not trying to protect him, we were trying to do our duty and get him to answer.
Finally when my pleas didn't work, I told that particular reporter to stop misbehaving and also to stop forcing his channel's agenda on everybody else. This is not the first time when such reporters have run a "preset" agenda of their channel that includes sabotaging others' work and vocally discrediting the rest. (Think about it, the same reporter had contacted me for an exclusive story earlier during the day that we had aired. I had obliged then, but by evening, I earned his and his channel's ire so much so that several efforts were made to discredit me.)
There are some who said that "they are your own tribesmen, you shouldn't have behaved this way". To that I would say: Yes, I shouldn't have raised my voice. I had no business to stop him from doing what he did, but the question is how can we allow such "tamasha" at the cost of our duty?
How can we allow somebody to force their agenda on us? How can we compromise with our work? How can we stand for those who are continuously discrediting us? Anyone present there would agree that this reporter seemed to be completely possessed, demonstrating his "holier than thou" attitude.
He, however, was tense during the entire live telecast with his superiors watching over him every second. He needed to either perform (the theatrics) or perish. The fact of the matter is that had he asked questions in a civilised manner, he would have got a better reply and coverage, but then without drama, Aiyar's apology made no "TRP" sense to some. (The drama I'm talking about is Aiyar finally yanking and throwing the mic that was repeatedly shoved in his face.)
And anyone who dared to question these unethical ways - for the sole reason that it was interfering with their work - is being labelled as "paid media" by that TV channel.
I completely condemn the way Aiyar misbehaved with the reporter and threw his mic, but why are you even expecting us, the "Lutyens' media", to stand up for you? I ask my readers, would you support an absolute maniac who is constantly abusing you just to "manufacture" a breaking news for his channel? There may be disagreement over the way I defended myself and my work, but I am sure there is no doubt about the fact that a journalist is bound by professional ethics and principles to cover any news story in a fair and objective manner.
I just tried to do that and would not hesitate to do it again.