There are some who believe that the two reporters from the India Today (IT) group, particularly Deepak Sharma, who had conducted a supposed sting operation, put up a great spirited fight and a gutsy performance against Union Minister Salman Khurshid (SK) during his Trust scam press conference on Sunday, October 14. This is nothing but poor understanding of certain codes. A press conference is not a boxing match. I have long observed reporters behaving like uncouth, uncivilised people at press conferences. They shout over each other, they scream, they heckle, even throw footwear and worst of all, they ARGUE with the one who is holding the presser.
Those watching might get a thrill out of the drama but reporters do not have this license. (Hey, even I enjoy the drama). There is a line reporters cannot cross. Reporters don’t have the right to interrupt, right to scream or right to argue no matter what the provocation. They are not entitled to keep poking till they believe they have got the answer they want. Not done. This is where the two IT reporters at the presser came out poorly and seemed to have lost their sense of decency. Frankly, reporters are not even entitled to a Q&A if the speaker so desires. He can just make his statements, say thank you and walk away. Media cannot demand vociferously for him to answer questions, especially not answers they want to hear.
Mind you, there are some who might construe this as a defence of Salman Khurshid. Far from it! SK behaved like a barbarian, like an animal and for all his claims of ‘Oxford education’ he appeared to have been educated in some sewer. He was terrible in his choice of words and a third rate character for threatening reporters with some action or the other. Considering SK is involved with some educational institutions he demonstrated what one should teach children not to do. As a lawyer, if SK had done the same thing in a court of law he would be cooling his heels in a small prison cell.
This was neither a court nor a trial. Therefore, no matter what the speaker at the presser does reporters do not, I repeat, do not have the right to badger or argue with him. Even if they don’t get answers, they don’t have a right to argue. Even if the answer is not satisfactory they don’t have the right to fight or argue. Even if the speaker refuses to answer any question at all they do not have the right to argue. All that reporters can and should do is ask decently and listen to the answer or the silence. They may get the chance to ask a follow up question but they have no business to indulge in arguments. SK would have been well within his rights to just make his statements and walk off and not even take any questions at all. That is the practice and norm. Watch this video of Obama talking to reporters from June 2012 (1.07 minutes). One unruly reporter heckled him:
Obama was right in what he said. He even said “I didn't ask for an argument”. After the exchange Obama didn’t answer any questions and left. He is within his rights to do so. Here’s what the American press generally reported about the incident:
In a remarkable display of unprofessionalism, Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro heckled President Obama as he delivered remarks in the White House’s Rose Garden regarding a shift in immigration policy Friday afternoon. Munro’s angst is apparently connected to comments the President made in March of 2011… Munro, the video indicates, was attending the remarks with a temporary press pass.
Obama was simply far more polite than the stupid SK. Reporters can go back and report their interpretation and rant in their newspapers. In this case India Today has a channel that can condemn SK and rant about it all day and night. Let’s deviate a bit. In the US, since 1966 it is mandatory for law enforcers to read out a suspect his Fifth Amendment rights. This is popularly called the Miranda Rights. You may have heard the statement prior to an arrest or custodial interrogation: “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law”. Simply put, the “accused” has the right not to answer. The Fifth Amendment provides that an “accused” can choose silence instead of answering any question that may have the potential of “incriminating” himself in a crime or trial. If this right is not read out to a suspect, he cannot be prosecuted. The onus to prove guilt is on the prosecution and not on the accused. In this case, the onus of proving guilt is on IT and Arvind Kejriwal through demands of investigation followed by prosecution. They can fight for that. But they are not entitled to fight “their accused” at his own presser. In this case the presser is not even a trial or a court. Although the presser wasn’t a trial, SK was there to defend himself not incriminate himself. He has the right to answer what he wants and how he wants (doesn’t include bad behaviour). The media can dissect his responses in their reports. Let’s see a few clips from this presser (1.30 minutes):
Evidently, the media has shown SK’s bad behaviour but they have chopped out the agitated reporters of IT group. Not surprising. The agitated and animated behaviour of the IT reporters and the general ruckus by all the reporters is shameful to say the least. AT one point Deepak Sharma even waved papers at SK and said: “You are the law minister, you MUST answer”. Who the hell is this guy? Is he a judicial interrogator? In the process he didn’t even allow other reporters to grill SK fairly. In India, media is routinely allowed access to suspects in police vans when they are arrested. They are allowed access even into cells inside police station. The police even parade them in front of the media and make them answer questions. This is simply a gross violation of their right to silence, even if we don’t have the equivalent of the Miranda Rights. No accused owes any answer to the media or even to his interrogators. He can choose absolute silence as defence. It is for the prosecution to prove their case and not the accused to prove his guilt or innocence. Of course, the accused is entitled by law to defend and argue for his innocence.
In the case of SK’s presser the IT reporters may not be satisfied with the answers. They have no right to badger. SK may have issued stupid threats. Reporters have a right to go back and report the misdeed as graphically as they want. Most of all, if the reporters were unhappy they have the right to walk out in protest or disgust. They do not have the right to ‘demand’ answers. They cannot ridicule the one who is holding the presser, no matter what. It is simply not done. Our media folks are known to poke mics into the faces and bodies of their targets. Even that deserves condemnation. They should keep a safe and clear distance from the person they want to question. In short, they are not allowed to behave like a lynch mob.
Some folks choose to condemn or condone bad, uncivilised behaviour by media depending on which side of the political aisle they are or on which side of an issue they are. It is worth remembering that no matter who the person, what the issue or what the case, bad behaviour by media when it crosses the line deserves nothing but severe condemnation. Even barbaric behaviour by SK cannot be a justification for media to misbehave. They should walk out if something is unacceptable to them. They are not entitled to a slanging match. That’s how they can prove they are different from politicians and criminals. Unfortunately, times are such that it’s hard to distinguish the two. Narendra Modi did the right thing when he walked out of a Karan Thapar interview when he found it disgusting. Mamata Banerjee walked out of a public interview with Sagarika Ghose when she was angry. Both sides have the right to do that.
If you were invited to a party where the host behaves badly, what would you do? Fight and argue with him? You might express a polite dissent and at worst you might say thank you and goodbye. It’s his party, he can cry if he wants to. That’s the code for the media too. If they come across a badly behaved savage, they cannot behave like him too, they should simply walk away. That would have been a bigger slap for Salman Khurshid.