For the elitist Indian media, Ram Nath Kovind does not have the ‘class’

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I will be lying if I claim that everyone knew who Ram Nath Kovind was when BJP President Amit Shah, on Monday, announced his name as his party’s choice for the next President of India. Even though he was the governor of Bihar when the name was announced, not many knew about him.

However, the common citizens can be excused for this ignorance. A huge majority of them will fail to name governors of many Indian states, and that’s fine. But what explains the ignorance of journalists, who are supposed to have a better general knowledge owing to them dealing with current affairs on a daily basis?

What was worse, was that this lack of general knowledge was flaunted by many journalists – especially from the English language media – who instead of questioning their own level of political awareness, decided to mock the stature of Ram Nath Kovind – an educated man from humble origins who rose up within the ranks of BJP thanks to become the governor of a state and could now become the next President of India.

Without knowing much about him – and will know later in this article why they did not know much about him – many celebrity journalists on Twitter declared that he was worse than Pratibha Patil, someone who had proudly declared that her ‘services’ to the Gandhi family earned her the post of President, apart from being accused of malpractices. The prejudice on display against Kovind was irrational.

Finally, there was some introspection from within the journalistic community, and on expected lines, this introspection did not come from celebrity journalists but journalists as ‘unknown’ as Ram Nath Kovind. A journalist named Bilal Zaidi wrote the following on his Facebook wall yesterday:

Back in the day when Nitin Gadkari was the party chief, Ramnath Kovind was made the party spokesperson. Every day reporters and bite-collectors would go to BJP office to get the customary daily soundite. And on many days you would find Kovind sitting in the press room. He was generally available to comment on a range of issues. But we — folks with the all powerful mike — would wait all day for Ravi Shankar Prasad or Rajiv Pratap Rudy or even Prakash Javdekar. And we would NEVER take Kovind’s bite, specially the English TV Reporters.

On desperate days when others would be unavailable, I would check with my desk and they would still refuse his bite.

Poor Srikant Sharma, the party media incharge, would keep offering him for soundbites and even as studio guest. But the media would keep refusing him.

In TV there are some unspoken realities.

Dark complexion, poor English.

And well, like it or not, caste!

There you go. The media ignored Ram Nath Kovind, refused to give him space, treated him as untouchable, and made him a ‘nobody’ and ‘unknown’ – all because he did not look good or spoke good English. And after doing all this, they mocked him for being a nobody and unknown earlier this week.

This admission was followed by similar admissions by other journalists, who admitted that the Indian media had an inherent bias in such matters, and not just the possible next President of India, even the current Prime Minister of India was a victim of it:

Some journalists are speaking up now as it involves name of a person who may well become the first citizen of India. However, this elitist nature of media has come to the fore earlier too.

In 2012, a blog post by a young woman named Khadija Ejaz, who trained with NDTV the previous year, had gone viral. She too wrote how NDTV would prefer “better looking, English speaking” people to be shown as on-air, even when it was about airing views of the common man over simple issues like hike in diesel prices. An excerpt from her post follows:

I received a call from the edit bay telling me that the reactions I had got were not good enough and that I’d have to get more. I can’t remember exactly what I was told was lacking in the footage, but I remember the gist of it: the people didn’t look good/educated enough for TV. They spoke Hindi too. There’s a word for that in India: ghhaati. Low class.

But it was a story about diesel. The only people who bought diesel at gas stations were truck drivers, autorickshaw drivers…and other people’s drivers in general. Weren’t these the people whose reactions you’d want in a story about diesel? They were the ones who’d be affected by the price rise, right? I didn’t understand the issue with the Hindi either. Sure, we were an English channel, but we subtitled non-English footage all the time. It was not a big deal, so what was so different this time? I’d tried explaining that to the person who’d called me from the newsroom, but I was very silkily asked to just get some English bites from better-looking people who weren’t uneducated drivers.

I got it. They wanted freshly-scrubbed white-collar reactions for the white-collar-catering Inglis channel. Didn’t matter if white-collar India didn’t care about diesel prices.

This was not one-off experience by her, as she mentioned in her blog that earlier too a video clip of common man’s reactions compiled by her about price rise was not put on air by NDTV because the faces were not good looking enough and everyone spoke in Hindi.

Let’s remember that NDTV is the gold standard of journalism as per the journalistic community, and this is their work culture if this young trainee is to be believed. And there is no reason to disbelieve her, as NDTV indeed is the epitome of this elitist mentality. Not just media coverage, even their hiring has been reported to be biased in favour of those who came from certain “class”.

A comprehensive report on NDTV and Prannoy Roy was filed by the Caravan magazine in 2015, and here is an excerpt from that report (emphasis added):

These early employees were collectively called the “Roys’ boys”—even the women. Most belonged to families long familiar with, if not enmeshed in, Delhi’s circles of power. Many of the two dozen former and current NDTV employees I spoke to for this piece told me the Roys used the term “people like us” to describe their team; some of my interviewees also used the term unselfconsciously themselves.

Vikram Chandra is the son of Yogesh Chandra, a former director general of civil aviation, himself the son-in-law of Govind Narain, a former home and defence secretary and governor of Karnataka. One of the NDTV’s top business heads, KVL Narayana Rao, is the son of KV Krishna Rao, a former army general who also served as governor of Jammu and Kashmir and other states. Rajdeep Sardesai is the son of the cricketer Dilip Sardesai, and the son-in-law of Doordarshan’s Bhaskar Ghose. Barkha Dutt’s mother, Prabha Dutt, was a senior journalist. Arnab Goswami is the son of Manoranjan Goswami, an army officer and BJP member; Manoranjan’s brother Dinesh was a union law minister in the VP Singh government. Sreenivasan Jain is the son of the economist Devaki Jain, and LC Jain, a well-known activist, who served as a member of the Planning Commission and as India’s high commissioner to South Africa. Another early hire, Nidhi Razdan, is the daughter of MK Razdan, who has been the editor-in-chief of the Press Trust of India. Vishnu Som is the son of Himachal Som, a former senior diplomat. Chetan Bhattacharji, a managing editor, is the grandson of Nirmal Mukarji, a former cabinet secretary and a governor of Punjab.

Sandeep Bhushan, who worked with NDTV for almost a decade, told me it seemed more than a mere coincidence that the channel should hire so many “babalog”—people with bureaucratic connections. Bhushan said that he applied to work with the channel around the year 2000, and gave a “damn good interview,” in spite of which he was rejected. “The next time, I went with clout,” he said. Armed with a reference from a bureaucrat, he reapplied for the same post soon after. He was hired.

Amazing!

Will it be really off mark if the Indian English language media, especially NDTV is branded “of the elites, by the elites, for the elites”? They are the voice of the elites, but with a straight face, they claim to represent the voice of the people.

Far from representing the voice of the common man, this elitist media actually suppresses it. It is nothing but the elitist nature of the Indian media that makes them despise the social media and new media start-ups like OpIndia.com so much. The common reader, who was supposed to look with awe at these “babalog”, suddenly had started questioning them and even exposing them. How could they tolerate it? So the babalog declared them “trolls”.

And of course, remember the famous words of Rajdeep Sardesai, the greatest boxing professional Indian media has produced – “paisa aa gaya, per class nahi aaya”. It reeked of elitism.

This elitist face of the media was at the fore again early this week when they couldn’t tolerate someone like Ram Nath Kovind, who did not look and talk like them, making headlines. He did not belong to the same class as them, and thus deserved the contempt reserved for “trolls”.

But well done nonetheless Indian media, it’s moments like these when you expose yourselves and give a reason for people like us to exist and be relevant.

(originally published on OpIndia.com)