Ranjona Banerji: Indian Media’s cheapskate policies lead to shallow coverage
By Ranjona Banerji
The Indian media’s biggest weakness has been exposed by the violence in Assam – lack of both intellectual depth and old-style news-gathering. Driven either by the race for rating points or by marketing research drivel imposed by them by corporate offices, journalists have reduced themselves to page makers and anchors. As news rooms have got younger and younger – by design – institutional memory has been sacrificed for cheap and amenable goods.
The result is that not a single mainstream news channel or newspaper has the ability to inform the reader about just what is happening in Assam.
On top of that, we are seeing a return to the right-left Hindu-Muslim polarisation in the media which was last rampant in the 1990s. This means that no conversation can take place without barbs and sideswipes and a complete disregard for fact or indeed for clarity. Last night on Headlines Today, I dare anyone to have gleaned anything substantial from the squabble between Vinod Sharma of Hindustan Times and Tarun Vijay of the BJP over the exodus of people from the North East on fear of retaliatory attacks from Muslims.
I can understand the need to sensationalise news. I also understand that when news moves at a fast pace, you have to move as seamlessly as possible from subject to subject. But our failure is in building up foundations of knowledge and information. We see stories in such lightweight terms that the idea of depth has been forgotten. It is one of our biggest ironies that as the media has become bigger and journalists are paid more, newsgathering has shrunk.
I have yet to read – TV is a complete failure here – any sustained set of articles in any one publication on the Assam situation. The right wing has been screaming about illegal immigration of Bangladeshis into Assam for years but figures do not seem to bear that out. Is it too much to ask that someone shine some light on the issue? The best I have read has been in kafila.org and if newspapers are not careful, the internet is going to walk all over their domain. Given the standard of newspapers sometimes, I don’t even know if that’s a bad thing.
Madhu Kishwar’s open letter to Arnab Goswami has created some waves in the social media. She has laid out all the problems which viewers (and as it happens, participants) have with prime time TV discussions. Many people have said what Kishwar has, but few have said it better.
In the light of that, it was amazing to watch Goswami and his guests on Times Now start frothing at the mouth a couple of weeks ago over the Sikh gurudwara killings in the US state of Wisconsin. I bring this up because I fail to see how hysteria between Goswami and Meenakshi Lekhi of the BJP over why the US called the killings an act of domestic terrorism and not a hate crime will make any substantial difference to the American legal process. Goswami I understand is on his peculiar jingoistic mission of catapulting India to the leader of the Universe status. But Lekhi is supposed to be a lawyer. From reading Kishwar’s piece you understand – the more you agree with the anchor, no matter how absurd his position – the better your chances of being called back as a guest.
Last night on Times Now, Goswami wanted to know why the persons who spread the rumours about people from the North East being attacked and the person who made a provocative speech in Mumbai last week had not been arrested yet. He provided an example of China, that beacon of justice and fair play, to prove his point. This is about as absurd as it gets.
For an illuminating, if unpleasant for the right wing, comment on Mumbai’s violence after some Muslim organisations protested the killings of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar, here’s Jyoti Punwani in the Hindu