Driven by TRP and news ratings, 24 hour news channels have cropped up incessantly across the country with failing journalistic tenets and even, more worrisome, wanting passion for factual accuracy and delivery of news with unbiased mind-set. Camouflaging propaganda as news, journalistic values have all been sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings and news has indeed “turned into a circus”.
Latest addition in this media frenzy is the prime time live interview of the Union Minister of Human Resource and Development, Smriti Irani on Aaj Tak. Titled as “Smriti Ki Pareeksha”, the interview was conducted by two non-seasoned journalists: Ashok Singhal and Anjana Kashyap, in the premises of Khalsa College, Delhi University amongst students and professors. In spite of all the buildup before the actual telecast of the interview, the interview fell short of anyone’s expectation of the same as a productive interchange of ideas or discussion of actual issues concerning the Human Resource and Development Ministry.
Setting the tenor of the interview in the very beginning, Singhal and Kashyap made it clear that the interviewers are more concerned with the accusations and controversies raking around the Union Minister, primarily instigated by Rahul Gandhi, rather than questioning her on key issues concerning her ministry. Proclaiming themselves as voice of the common man, the interviewers failed to show any deference towards them as well and discarding any sort of façade to appear courteous, Mr. Singhal issues a whip to one gentleman sitting in the crowd: “Media ke sawal aap nahin taye karenge” (you won’t decide the questions for the media).
With gallantry out of their way, interviewers unrelentingly pursue the path of sensationalism and press the Union Minister to answer the accusations made against her by infamous Rahul Gandhi for some 15-20 minutes. Not shy of answering questions, the Union Minister tackles every question and put across her ministry’s stand (however, wrong or right that may be, is another question) backed by facts on her fingertips.
Not mollified by the responses of Smriti Irani, Mr. Singhal takes a final plunge and without anticipating the reaction it will trigger, asks the Union Minister unashamedly: “Narendra Modi ne sabse kam umar ki mantri banaya apko-HRD jaise bada portfolio diya. Aur degree ka bhi vivaad hai- aap graduate ya under-graduate hai…Lekin kya khubi lagi aap mein? Kya vajay thi?” (“You are the youngest minister appointed by Narendra Modi and yet you have received the big portfolio like Human Resource Department Ministry. And then there is a controversy regarding your educational qualifications as well: whether you are a graduate or under-graduate. What did he like in you? What was the reason?”)
No stranger to these sexual gibes, Smriti Irani immediately caught on to the hidden manifestations of misogyny and immediately diverted the attention of audience towards the question. Condemning the sexist attitude of the male journalist hosting the prime time interview, Ms. Irani articulating her stand in strong words made it perfectly clear that her achievements should not sidelined merely because she is a woman; that this portfolio is not given as a gift to her and she has proved her mettle time and again to earn this position. Not coerced by Mr. Singhal, Sriti Irani questioned Singhal and said whether he would have asked a similar question to the PM that what “qualities” he saw in Irani to make her a Cabinet minister? Trying to make a comeback and soothe the audience as well as Ms. Irani, Mr. Singhal made a frail attempt by associating the question with “fake degree” row.
Immediately picked up on social media, Aaj Tak was denounced on Twitter. Pallavi Ghosh, CNN-IBN’s Deputy National Affairs Editor, tweeted: “As a woman I am outraged at the question asked of @smritiirani – is this what being a man is all about.” Another tweet was made by Smita Barooah, a political commentator: “AshokSinghal is clearly a crass misogynist!Would he ever ask such an offensive, sexist question to a male politician?”
Tragic as it is, Mr. Singhal is not the first one to sneer at the Union Minister, Ms. Irani is still perceived as inept to hold the portfolio of the important department like Human Resource and Development. Largely seen as “Tulsi” of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Ms. Irani was derided by Sanjay Nirupam, three-time Member of Parliament, in 2012 on ABP News: “Aap kal tak thumke laga rahi thi” and by Sharad Yadav who made a spiteful remark: “I know what you are” on the floor of the Upper House.
Well aware of our politicians’ track record of making sexist comments and harboring misogynist attitude, one definitely expects a better conduct from media. And if, education certificate was ever a qualification to get appointed as a Union Minister, India would have bred a better crop of Ministers. However, this attitude points towards a much larger malaise of preferential treatment to one sex over another and deeply imbibed patriarchal values in our society. As emphasized by Anuradha Raman, associate editor, The Hindu, “The media, after all, is a part of society and Singhal epitomizes the misogyny within.”