Rajdeep Sardesai: PM a man with a defensive bat
What happens when you place a group of 25 television 'editors' in a room with the Prime Minister of the country and broadcast the interaction live across the country? Showtime might be one way to put it. After all, each editor, some with egos larger than their audiences, is conscious of asking a question that might be the prime time headline. The only problem: Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister in front of the cameras is a bit like Geoffrey Boycott at the cricket crease. This isn't Barack Obama working the media, but a bureaucrat-politician who prefers to answer questions with a defensive bat.
But then he is the Prime Minister, and he speaks so rarely, that every opportunity seems a godsend. More so since his silence has been interpreted as a sign of 'guilt' in the last few months. The fact that his party supremo Sonia Gandhi hasn't spoken at all makes it even necessary to break through the silent corridors of power. Which is perhaps why the Prime Minister's interaction was so eagerly anticipated, a chance to hear at last from the man who should be the most powerful Indian.
As it turned out, it was, much like the Indian cricket team, a 50-50 performance, both from the media and the Prime Minister. The questions were mostly generic, each editor asking a question, keeping in mind his or her constituency. So, the Andhra editors asked questions on Telangana, the north-east editor on the Assam elections, the Chennai channel on Tamil Nadu fishermen. The national media appeared more concerned with the 'grave' issues of the day, and gravity in today's times equals corruption. 2G, Adarsh, CWG, Devas, the list of scams is long. So while Dr Singh may have asked editors not to focus on 'negativism' that will undermine the country's self-confidence, journalists by their very nature thrive on bad news.
There were a few specific questions too: on whether the prime minister had wanted A Raja in his cabinet in the first place; whether he was ready to appear before a JPC on the 2G scam; whether the PMO was aware of the Antrix-Devas deal. Of course, we forgot some important questions in the process: e.g. had the prime minister erred in the CVC controversy (instead we asked him, in true Hindi news channel style, on his favourite cricket player!).
The tough questions were answered by a ritualistic reference to the politics of compromise in a coalition till someone reminded Dr Singh that there can be surely no compromise with corruption. Was it back to the routine of an honourable prime minister surrounded by dishonourable colleagues and had he considered quitting? The prime minister gulped a glass of water, and then bravely maintained he would last his full term.
Maybe, the bravery was a facade, or maybe Dr Singh is truly the ultimate political survivor. Either way, you came out of the press conference yearning for more. In fact, if I were to give some editorial advise to the prime minister, it would be this: do address the press more often, maybe even once a quarter. The country, if not the editors, needs to hear from their prime minister on where he stands on issues of critical importance. Only next time, can the interaction be accompanied by snacks. If there is anything worse than pompous editors its hungry ones!
(The writer is Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat)
More about Rajdeep SardesaiRajdeep Sardesai is the Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network, that includes CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat. He comes with 22 years of journalistic experience during which he has covered some of the biggest stories in India and the world. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the Managing Editor of both NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India and was responsible for overseeing the news policy for both the channels. He has also worked with The Times of India for six years and was the city editor of its Mumbai edition at the age of 26. During the last 22 years, he has covered major national and international stories, specialising in national politics. He has won numerous other awards for journalistic excellence, including the prestigious Padma Shri for journalism in 2008, the International Broadcasters Award for coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2007. He has won the Asian Television Award for best talk show for the Big Fight on two occasions and his current flagship show on CNN-IBN, India at 9, has been awarded the best news show at the Asian awards for the last two years. He has been News Anchor of the year at the Indian Television Academy for seven of the last eight years and won more than 50 awards in this period. He has also been the President of the Editors Guild of India, the only television journalist to hold the post and was chosen a Global leader for tomorrow by the world economic forum in 2000. An alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, he has done his Masters and LLB from Oxford University and has also played first class cricket for the Oxford University team. He has contributed to several books and writes a fortnightly column that appears in seven newspapers.
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