Column: Scribes Must Unite To Fight Boorish Behavior By Politicians

By Sandeep Sahu

“Power”, as Lord Acton has said famously, “corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But there are other things that power does to human beings as well: making them arrogant, for one. To paraphrase Lord Acton, “Power makes people arrogant and absolute power makes them absolutely arrogant.” This truism was in evidence for the umpteenth time in the last few years when Kendrapara MP Anubhav Mohanty behaved with the reporter of a TV channel in the most reprehensible manner yesterday.

Some quarters have sought to pass it off as a one off incident confined strictly to the cine star turned MP and the reporter. But anyone who has followed such matters over a period of time would realize that there is a definite pattern to it. To recount only the most recent instances, an angry BJD leader and sitting MLA held an elderly man by the scruff of his neck and angrily forced him to sit down for his ‘audacity’ of blocking him from the view of the TV cameras! The occasion made the misdemeanor even more of an eyesore than it would have been otherwise. After all, this was the funeral of one of the 42 CRPF jawans martyred in the terrorist attack in Pulwama in Jammu & Kashmir. Around the same time, goons of a local BJD leader chased and hacked a journalist in Basta, chopping off his fingers, in the process, for reporting about his shady activities. A few weeks later, another sitting ruling party MLA in Bolangir publicly heckled, scolded and shooed away a frail, old woman for her ‘crime’ of not voting for the ruling party. [Taking a cue from their political masters, even senior officers have also started misbehaving with journalists. The secretary of a department shoved away the boom and asked the reporter to leave the room even as he allowed others to stay on. An SP, coincidentally in Kendrapara, heckled the reporter of News 18.]

And now a sitting BJD MP has publicly humiliated OTV reporter Manoj Swain for just doing his duty. BJD leader Sipra Mallick has sought to put the reporter in the dock by wondering aloud if he had done something to provoke the MP. But a little inquiry with other reporters present in the scene left this writer in no doubt that it was a completely unprovoked outburst. Even assuming that the scribe did ask a provocative question, does an elected representative of the people have the right to behave boorishly with a journalist – or anyone, for that matter – in public?

Ironically, all these instances of sheer arrogance of power have come from members of a party whose leader has set an example in good, decent and courteous behaviour. After winning his fifth successive elections, the leader even summoned his elected representatives and asked them to be humble and respectful in public. But as the conduct of the worthies mentioned above – and they are not the only ones by any means – proves, the message has clearly not percolated down to them.

Anubhav, in particular, is a serial offender when it comes to uncouth behavior. Within the last few months, he has had two cases registered against him for misbehavior; the first by a lady journalist and the second by a neighbor. By all accounts, it’s OTV’s coverage of the latter that has incurred the MP’s wrath. For someone who was already a celebrity before coming into politics, the Ollywood mega star is expected to adhere to some norms of decency in public. But the important question is: as a public representative, does he have the right to behave the way he did in this case? The answer has to be an unequivocal ‘No’! If he had some grievances about the nature of coverage in the channel, he could have taken up the matter at various forums, including the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and the Press Council of India, available to him. In choosing to vent out his anger against the hapless reporter, he did not exactly enhance his own standing as a public persona or the image of his leader and his party.

One major reason for politicians behaving crudely with journalists is that they know scribes are a divided house, divided as much by their professional rivalries as the political loyalties of their employers. Secure in the knowledge that no issue, not even their security or ‘ease if working’, would unite the entire media fraternity, the politicians feel they can get away with doing what they want to an individual reporter or the organization s/he represents.

It is high time journalists in the state, who work under severe constraints, realized this and started standing up for each other and for the media fraternity as a whole when it involves their collective interests even as their employers continue to fight their political battles. If they don’t, incidents like the one in Kendrapara yesterday would only become more frequent.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)