Michael Rezendes: The media needs to scrutinise the Modi government'
Pulitzer prize winner Michael Rezendes of Spotlight fame talks about how India should prep for 2019 elections
On a windy January afternoon, Mark Rezendes, a reporter from The Boston Globe's Spotlight team, arrived in Jaipur ahead of an annual literature festival. At his session, he said something that he hopes should become the thrust of the media's role in the 2019's general elections. "The fundamental point of doing journalism is to question authority." If you don't recognise who the Pulitzer prize winner is, he was played famously by actor Mark Ruffalo in the critically acclaimed 2015 film, Spotlight, which depicts how the Globe's Spotlight team investigated systematic child abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area, and the cover-up behind the crimes.
As he spoke to us later, he reiterated the same notion. "I think that President Trump's anti-media rhetoric is different in the US than it is in countries like India and Turkey. Reporters within the US work with the US Constitution and with the protection of the first amendment, Trump has inspired a golden age of reporting for us. But his rhetoric has a much more pernicious effect abroad, wherein government leaders feel like it is open season on reporters and that they can put pressure on them or worse, throw them into prison."
At a time when media persons are being pitted against each other depending on which side of the political spectrum their allegiances lie on, Rezendes believes that the press should stand together. "Ideally, the role of the Indian press should be to scrutinize the Modi government and to report on his accomplishments as well as his shortcomings," he said. "In the next year, the news media should take an honest, cold look at what the government had promised to deliver and how much has it delivered. What have they failed to deliver on? I was a political reporter for a long time; what I used to do is create a scorecard that would show how much a candidate has delivered and how far he has failed to deliver before he ran for re-election."
The movie Spotlight shows Marty Baron, the newly appointed editor of The Boston Globe, arriving from Florida, and on his first day on the job, questioning the Geoghan case in which a priest had repeatedly sexually abused numerous children. "Marty's outsider status [the rest of the Spotlight team was from in-and-around Boston but Marty had just come in from Florida] was absolutely key - I don't think we would have chased the story if it wasn't for him," said Rezendes.
"He was coming from a part of Florida which has the best open records law in the country, so when he came to The Globe on his first day of work and saw that there was a lawsuit that had been filed against the Catholic church and that a judge had impounded the records that would have normally been public, it just didn't add up. Marty didn't have a grudge against the church - this wasn't an ideological decision for him. It just didn't make any sense to him and it wasn't good journalism to allow this to happen," he added.
But Rezendes's favourite part of the film is something else. "The other thing I really like about the movie, is that it reflects our imperfections. It shows us failing at getting the story thrice, getting doors slammed in our faces, and losing our temper - it's all very human."
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