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TWEAK AND LEAK

It is tempting to blur the difference between a politician tweaking a television interview in collusion with his interviewer and an actor Photoshopping a shoot with help from a magazine’s photo-editor before the pictures get published in it. Yet, it is important for critically alert citizens of the contemporary world to be able to think through the ethical distinction between the two. Each undermines a specific kind of accountability or commitment to truth. But it clearly matters more to be told accurately what a new leader of the people thinks on crucial matters of governance than to be shown without reaching for the airbrush a celebrity chin beginning to multiply. So, it is a definite let-down for the nation to have to watch, in embarrassing detail, the furtive and obsequious cravenness with which Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, was seeking the collusion of his interviewer so that Mr Kejriwal might come through as a “revolutionary” politician on TV. It was also alarming, rather than heart-warming, to observe the rapport between Mr Kejriwal and the journalist, who should have let him know in no uncertain terms that what the interview chose to highlight was entirely up to the channel’s journalistic objectives. The independence of those objectives from sundry politicians’ anxieties and ambitions is vital to the health of a modern democracy, especially when it is getting ready for elections.

But there is another turn of the screw. Somebody has leaked these rushes of the interview, which would have been edited out, though remaining the property of the media organization owning the channel. So, it is now possible for everybody with a phone and an internet connection to watch this degrading clip on YouTube alongside perfectly honourable footage of Mr Kejriwal being revolutionary, and then process both sets of moving image in his or her head before making a political judgment. This is the freeing, levelling power of the internet, which no Election Commission, however regulatory and vigilant, or public relations machinery, however state-of-the-art and efficient, can quite police and control. So, what is lost in journalistic compromise and politicians’ hypocrisy is made up for, as far as the people and their ‘right to information’ are concerned, by the indomitable mischievousness of the media and the internet. But truth does have the day at the end — even if by the most dubious means.