By Akhileshwari Anand Raj
On the 4th of August, 2017, the Press Trust of India (PTI) apologised and removed a picture of people wearing masks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. This was after the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani called out the agency for using and circulating this image.
What was it all about?
The photograph was in celebration of the alliance between the two parties which currently form the government in Bihar. The PTI tweeted a clarification regarding this picture, which was of JDU and BJP workers wearing masks to mark Friendship Day and issued an apology for “hurting sentiments.” The apology followed Irani’s scathing tweet, where she asked if this was how the PTI chose to project elected heads and if this was their “official stand.”
This attracted criticism from the opposition, with Congress member Gaurav Pandhi tweeting the since-deleted picture and accusing Irani of “arm-twisting” news agencies by misusing her role as the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister.
Irani has previously called out the agency for uploading a picture of a supposed waterlogged Ahmedabad airport in July. This was actually an image of the flooded Chennai airport in 2015. Before the PTI could withdraw the said image, it had been used by nation-wide publications such as The Indian Express. PTI issued a statement apologising for the said image, and that the said photographer had been fired.
The rebuke by Irani, in that case, was justified, but in comparison, the present scenario of an image of people in masks is trivial. The media has, for decades, published images of political workers using masks of important world leaders. An idea that was adopted from the United States, the origin of this practice in India was first documented ten years ago. A Hindustan Times article regarding this mentions the use of such masks in election campaigns when Narendra Modi was the Gujarat Chief Minister.
Did she cross the line?
Irani has always been vocal and opinionated. Commenting on the Amarnath Yatra attack, she rebutted Rahul Gandhi’s statements in which he blamed Modi and the PDP alliance. She called him out on his frequent vacationing and blamed the current-day Kashmir challenges on the past doings of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
In another instance, she had a Twitter showdown with the Bihar Education Minister Ashok Choudhary, who addressed her as ‘dear’ during the argument. She wrote an open letter against these condescending statement made by him, outlining her struggle as a woman, from her time as a television star to her hard fought political battles.
Known as a woman who has always taken a stand against the wrong and unjust, it is uncharacteristic of her to be concerned about a photograph which implies nothing offensive. Moreover, this has been in practice for years now, and if tolerance cannot be expected from someone as liberal as her, journalistic freedom might as well become a thing of the past in India.
Featured Image Source: Flickr