Media frenzy over VK Singh’s age

17 Jan,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


On Monday night, I really thought the world had come to an end, what with India’s army chief suing the government over his date of birth. At least, that’s what I understood from Times Now, Newsx and a random sampling of Hindi channels. NDTV had move on to Pakistan to look at their own crisis, with the military playing its usually stellar role of villain cum hero.


But by Tuesday morning, oddly, India was no longer at the brink of some terrible crisis. Yes, the army chief’s problems were headlined everywhere and while newspapers found his court action unprecedented, they were not concerned that India was at some crossroads or the other. The issue is undoubtedly serious but TV likes to see everything as a catastrophe or a victory and this attitude can cloud real issues.


From my point of view, the big story was the ASER report about the tragic state of rural education in India (I confess that column for Mid-Day tomorrow is about this). The report made to the front pages of most newspapers but the attitude of the Times of India, I found most intriguing. A single column on page 1 spent half the space talking about how this report wasn’t the biggest as it claimed to be – as if that was the main point of the exercise. One inside report was about a possible education ombudsman and the other about enrolment of girls being up. Compared to this meagre sampling, DNA, Indian Express, Hindustan Times focused on the revelation that class 5 students cannot even read class 2 textbooks.


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The Times of India was the only paper (only?) to carry the story of the possibility of writer Salman Rushdie not attending the Jaipur Literary Fest because of security concerns raised by the government after some hardline Muslim groups objected to his presence. TV is all over this story now and judging from the latest “source” news, the government may well be changing its mind.


The lack of commitment to freedom of speech and expression from our government agencies remains a worry. The attempts to muzzle Google and Facebook have also got plenty of newspaper space.


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The Indian Express had its fifth Ramnath Goenka Awards for journalistic Excellence in Delhi on Monday. Vice-president Hamid Ansari said that “watchdog journalism” is “vibrant journalism”. He also pointed to the more pertinent problem – that the slow corporatisation of the media has led to falling standards. “The slow erosion of the institution of the editor in Indian media organisations is a reality. When media space and media products are treated solely in terms of revenue maximisation strategies, editors end up giving way to marketing departments.”


The cat is out of the bag as far as the media is concerned and we need to address this issue more seriously than we have so far, no matter how many EMIs will suffer as a result.


Press council chairman Markandey Katju couldn’t resist a little dig about the poor intellectual level of most media people but that still is the lesser problem. Ansari’s diagnosis is more apt.


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One suspects that MS Dhoni must be thanking army chief VK Singh for taking him off headline news!

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