Says news channels treat the grand-old party with a strong bias and does not allow it a level-playing field to express its viewpoint
Congress supporters seen outside the residence of party president Rahul Gandhi, in New Delhi, on Wednesday. Pic/PTI
The Congress' decision to boycott television debates for the next 30 days has nothing to do with the task of explaining the Lok Sabha defeat and the crisis over the party president's resignation, but mainly about the accusation that most TV news channels treat the grand-old party with a strong bias and does not allow it a level-playing field to express its viewpoint. As said by party's national spokesperson Sanjay Jha, the decision wasn't a long-lasting one, but a step forward to a comprehensive media strategy that the party was planning for future.
Jha further said that a large section of mainstream media, particularly television channels, had become cheerleaders of Modi's government. He added that the channels continue to create distorted debates, and the anchors do not allow Congress spokespersons to speak their mind. Congress' communications chief Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted that the party would not send its spokespersons on television debates for a month.
"We have no issues with the print media but the Congress and many other Opposition parties like TMC and Samajwadi too have decided to stay away from the television biased debates," added Jha. "They choose panelists who are allied with the BJP. The anchors are biased and don't give us airtime. The debates are asymmetrical, lopsided and don't allow us level-playing field," he said, adding that repeated attempts were made to create a narrative that supports the BJP. "We will wait and watch. This decision isn't permanent. We want to debate with the BJP. We are in a state of evaluation and will decide on how we should appear on television (once we are prepared fully)," he said.
Jha said the Congress respected the media when it was in power and it continues to have high regard for it. "It doesn't matter if a channel has a certain ideological approach, but it shouldn't have a bitter and disturbed debate." He further said the Congress welcomed criticism with open arms. "We are a liberal party that celebrates freedom of media. Remember Anna Hazare's 2011 agitation? We took everything in our stride. But the current government doesn't like criticism." Reacting to Congress' boycott, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said the party was scared of the way television debates were conducted. "Congress is worried that the debates may do damage to it further in view of the BJP's massive victory."
When contacted, news anchor Rajdeep Sardesai said, "I am disappointed about the boycott although I believe that some channels have run a horribly one-sided agenda against the Congress. A boycott may not resolve the issue. We all (politicians and journalists) need to introspect on how to restore credibility and a sense of fairness in our primetime debates."