The Congress on Sunday announced its candidates for the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections and decided to nominate ‘journalist’ Kumar Ketkar to the upper house from Maharashtra. This decision became an “I told you so moment” for many, as over the years Ketkar has acquired a notorious image of being a pro-Congress speaker, masquerading as a “neutral commentator”, while he among other things appeared in panel discussions.
The announcement, as a result, came also came a vindication for those, who over the years have vociferously cried foul at being treated to “unbiased” views and opinions of Ketkar, which sometimes blurred the lines between him and a party spokesperson.
It is generally assumed that a party won’t nominate you to the Rajya Sabha unless it can acquire some benefit out of, which includes giving it a chance to “virtue signal about being a party with a difference” as was seen in the case of AAP trying to woo former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan.
It might be generally accepted that Kumar Ketkar won’t provide many opportunities to virtue signal, thereby leading many to draw the plausible conclusion of him being “rewarded” for his alleged affinity towards a particular viewpoint. This “reward” too might have a hidden agenda as was speculated by a twitter user:
Congress can send very few MPs to Rajyasabha. Instead of sending a party leader, they send Kumar Ketkar. Shows few things. They value friendly media more. They’re signalling to other stooges in media to keep the party afloat in studios
— Ram (@ramprasad_c) March 12, 2018
Let’s step aside from Kumar Ketkar’s nomination for a moment, as to be fair such acts of journalists being sent to Rajya Sabha transcend party lines. This episode does raise the question whether is it ever a good idea for a journalist to get involved in politics. The main point being a journalist becoming a politician is never the same as some other professional doing so, the chief reason being both not being mutually exclusive.
As seen via this point made, journalists knowingly or unknowingly end up influencing people’s opinions regardless of the amount of “objectivity” they claim to maintain. Politics or public service as a whole not being a profession in itself, but a combination of collective roles.
For example, a lawyer becoming a politician can directly help formulate policies, a technocrat can aid in providing access to technology, a scientist similarly can positively influence the scientific temperament and so on. How exactly does a journalist fit in the midst of things?
What fundamentally differentiates journalism from any other profession is that its main role is to “report” and not “create”. This by all accounts hasn’t been grasped by many in the profession as evident by the amount of narrative peddling and cooking up of stories which are witnessed regularly.
The main point is the intermixing of journalism and any other profession will almost always lead to a conflict of interest like situation. Whether it is the case of Kumar Ketkar or even in case of an auto journalist bagging a plum post with a top car manufacturer thanks to his “positive coverage” of the company.
Thus when it comes to such issues, journalism’s ability to influence opinions turns out to be both a boon and curse for the profession.
One of the proposed solutions regarding such matters is making the journalists shed their garbs of neutrality to openly profess their views and beliefs to maintain a level of transparency for the public. But what is stopping the transparency from turning into brazenness and snowballing into a PR exercise for their masters?
Finally such a culmination of a journalist into a full-fledged party politician, more importantly, might result in becoming the Waterloo moment for the profession.
Imagine a freshly graduated student looking for a role model in the industry to base his career upon, or even looking at the possible career trajectory of the veterans in his profession.
There, on one hand, he sees a veteran journalist all set to enjoy the juicy life of a Rajya Sabha MP, for devoting his whole career towards peddling the narrative set by a particular party or ideology.
While on the other hand there are sad stories of ordinary working journalists leading a life of hardships involving low pay and lack of job security, struggling to provide for their families, after merely following the editorial stances set by those at the very top.
What example does this profession set for that fresh out of the college youth who has his life ahead of him?