In the contemporary age of digital journalism and 24*7 news consumption, instances of conflict of interest are no longer rare among Indian journalists. Prior to taking a plunge in active politics, Ashutosh, Former Managing Editor, IBN7, wrote a book titled ‘Anna: 13 Days That Awakened India’. The book, which was widely supportive of the anti-graft agitation led by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare, was launched on March 21, 2012, at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi where Hazare himself was present.

In a column written for The Hindu on April 2, 2012, Vikram Kapur noted that Ashutosh’s Anna book “is anything but impartial reporting.” The same was corroborated when Ashutosh officially joined Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party on January 9, 2014 and unsuccessfully contested for the Lok Sabha from New Delhi’s Chandni Chowk constituency.

However, the real question pertains to whether a journalist can write a book which zealously supports a political movement, then continue working as a journalist and later on become a part of a political party which is borne out of the same movement? Will his reportage be considered as objective in such a scenario?

“Every journalist is bound to face conflict of interest since human beings ought to have political leanings” feels Delhi University Journalism Professor Sudhir Rinten. He reasons that Ashutosh supported the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement on account of “political outburst” which was to “show in his stories.”

Similarly, MJ Akbar, one of the most celebrated Indian journalists, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in the lead up to the 2014 General Elections. Akbar had previously been the spokesperson of the Congress during the days of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The profession of journalism is premised on the concept of objectivity but the same principle is being crucified by journalists who are seen cosying up to the establishment in Lutyens Delhi as part of the cocktail circuit. Do such journalists command the moral upper hand imperative to question government officials on probity issues?

The government’s ability to tamper with the conduct of journalists by means of using awards as baits is another worrying factor. Recently, the Government of India awarded Swapan Dasgupta, a known right wing commentator with the Padma Bhushan in the field of literature and education. Naturally when Modi’s NDA government was hit by the biggest scandal in the form of ‘Lalitgate’, Dasgupta was on various news channels defending Sushma Swaraj in what is being alleged to be a clear case of impropriety.

India TV’s Rajat Sharma, the same channel whose News Editor QW Naqvi resigned following an allegedly rigged interview of Narendra Modi on Aap Ki Adalat during the 2014 General Elections, was also awarded with the Padma Bhushan. Interestingly, the Prime Minister who shies away from interacting with the domestic television media, was one of Rajat Sharma’s guests on the 21st anniversary of his famous programme Aap Ki Adalat.

The ownership of newspapers in India is also political. The Pioneer is owned and edited by BJP’s Chandan Mitra who currently serves as a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha. Thus, the reader is naturally bound to suspect The Pioneer’s reportage on the BJP due to Mitra’s political affiliation. Ownerships patterns become overtly political once we move towards the southern belt of India with Tamil Nadu leading the pack courtesy the likes of Jaya TV and Kalaignar TV.

“People who are not aware of the functioning of the media have too lofty expectations from journalists. They too are human beings. But there is a grey area. The problem arises when there is quid pro quo,” says senior journalist Rasheed Kidwai who has authored a biography of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Journalism is facing a dangerous assault at the hands of an unholy corporate-political alliance. How will independent journalists respond to this challenge is not fully known yet. But a ray hope can be seen in developmental journalist P Sainath’s latest initiative called PARI or People’s Archive of Rural India. Sainath has taken to the web to “tell everyday lives of everyday people” and won’t “accept any direct funding by the government or corporate houses.”

(The writer is pursuing MA Convergent Journalism from AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia. He has published several opinion pieces, news reports and letters for various news websites and newspapers. This is an opinion piece that originally appears on the Young Citizen page of The Citizen).