How Kejriwal's attack on the media may be a calculated one

So, what is the real story behind Arvind Kejriwal’s threat to the media that he would ‘jail’ them if the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power? Is that an empty threat? One doesn’t know. Is it a shot in the dark? Not likely, given the intelligence of the AAP chief. Then, what is it?

It may be an astute strategy played out by Kejriwal to make the AAP hog maximum media limelight in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections. One needs to read between the lines to understand the real motive behind Kejriwal making such an irresponsible statement in a democratic system, especially against the same media, of which he is a product.

Kejriwal’s threat has been slammed both by the print and electronic media as arrogant, with an authoritarian streak. But his statement ensured him maximum space on TV channels throughout the day slamming out everything else, including Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, who were hardly visible. The prime time discussion almost on all major channels was about Kejriwal and his tirade against the media. After all, isn’t even negative publicity is good publicity?

Kejriwal has come in for criticism for his statements about the media. PTI

Kejriwal has come in for criticism for his statements about the media. PTI

By accusing the media of corruption, bribery and favouring BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for monetary gains, Kejriwal has cleverly tried to buttress his image of a crusader against corruption, who can even take on the media.

Though the media is considered the fourth pillar of democracy, and today’s youth has an idealistic opinion about it, there exists a negative perception among a section of the society too. This section believe journalists are blackmailers and resort to arm-twisting politicians and the corporate world for their gains.

The Niira Radia tapes, for instance, allegedly pointing to a nexus between high profile editors and politicians, compromised the integrity of journalists and their profession in the eyes of the common man.

A Trust Barometer Survey in 2010 showed Indian media losing its credibility and trust among the people. As per the survey, "Trust in media in India is waning rapidly. It has declined by 7 per cent-- from 65% in 2009 to 58% in 2010."

Another survey, Synovate Opinion Poll, referring to the Radia Tape episode in the same year mentioned that 86% of the people felt let down by the news of senior journalists being compared to fixers.

"The statement is a well played strategy and a brilliant stroke by Arvind Kejriwal looking for maximum impact on the masses," said social scientist Shiv Visvanathan.

"There’s an erosion of values in some section of the media at present, which Kejriwal has tried to use as a tool," he added.

Kejriwal’s finger of accusation at the media is part of his ‘blitzkrieg strategy’ that helped him knock out seasoned politician and three-term chief minister Sheila Dikshit in Delhi assembly election last year.

He seems to have used a three-pronged strategy in the name of media. First, he has tried to fan the latent anger amongst the people against a certain section of the media.

Second, he wants to give the media a message – if you are genuinely against corruption, why aren’t you propping me up totally.

And third, by keeping himself at the centre of discussion, read controversy, Kejriwal has succeeded in compelling the media to juxtapose him with two other stronger contenders for the top job, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.

"Kejriwal has been successful in drawing a lot of attention, and also build an image of a crusader against corruption, who even dares to take on the so-called corrupt media. Through his statement, he wants to give a message that if he comes to power he would fix up the corrupt, even if it’s media,"Prahlad Kakkar, noted ad professional, said.

Kejriwal has shrewdly got the media dancing to his tunes. In the beginning, during his India Against Corruption movement with Anna Hazare, he got stupendous media attention, which reached a crescendo when he became the Delhi CM. But, he bared his fangs against the same media when it started questioning his actions.

Despite strongly condemning Kejriwal for his statement, veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar opines that over the years, erosion has indeed taken place in journalistic values due to increase in pressure, corporatisation, lack of freedom to journalists and various interferences.

"But, Kejriwal should refrain from his dictatorial tone, especially when he has prominent journalists in his team," he said.

Kejriwal’s team has fielded noted journalists like Anita Pratap, Ashutosh, Ashish Khetan and many others for the Lok Sabha polls. His close confidante, Manish Sisodia, is also a former television journalist.

This star team just proves the point. When Kejriwal has the backing of so many media experts, could he really have shot from the hip?