Ranjona Banerji: Media forgets more than it remembers

29 Jun,2012

Ranjona Banerji

By Ranjona Banerji


Most Indian newspapers stayed up late to bring readers the results of the Euro semi-final between Germany and Italy. The Times of India also managed to check up the Wimbledon scores and had a front page snippet on Rafael Nadal’s shocker of a second round exit. This is unusual because TOI usually does much less for tennis than other newspapers.


(But CNN tennis reporter, I have a question for you: Is Rafael Nadal’s second round exit bigger than Pete Sampras’s fourth round exit in 2001, since you said that Nadal’s upset was the biggest in tennis history and no one could remember another? Nadal has two Wimbledon titles, Sampras at the time had seven Wimbledon titles – a record he holds with William Renshaw – and would never win another. The man Sampras lost to: Roger Federer. It was only 11 years ago, a little history is not a bad thing for a sports reporter. Or even, a good memory!)


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The Houston Chronicle has fired a reporter for working as an exotic dancer (sometimes known as stripper) as a second job. The woman was exposed by a rival publication. Snitching on your competitors is a trend in Western journalism which is yet to reach India and one wonders whether that is not a good thing. The Guardian’s exposes of phone-hacking and other dubious practices by rival newspapers, especially those owned by Rupert Murdoch, perhaps fall in the realm of both public service and dogged investigative journalism. (The Hindu comes the closest in India, as it occasionally pulls up lesser media houses for journalistic and marketing transgressions.) But “investigating” fellow journalists of media houses and their personal lives to inform readers? Am not sure what category of journalism this falls into.


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A minor storm in Indian journalism has been over the death of a photographer who worked with Tehelka, was sent into the hinterland to do a story on Naxals, got malaria there and died. The newspaper is at fault for apparently not factoring malaria into the threat element of this assignment.


Newspapers in India are notorious for not being bothered about the dangers of newsgathering – mainly because most newspapers have dispensed with most kinds of dangerous reporting. (I could I suppose say the same thing about TV, in that they hardly started.) Gone are the days when even gossip columnists – like Devyani Chaubal being slapped by Dharmendra – faced physical dangers while working. I am being facetious I know but bullet-proof vests are hardly part of a reporter’s must-haves in India. There should be no room for callousness. But I am still unconvinced what Tehelka could have done about a mosquito. If they did not help the photographer or his family later, then there is cause for criticism.


Still, it would not hurt media houses to take a closer look at employee welfare (this does not mean a box of mithai at Diwali) and on-the-job dangers.


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Interesting that the anniversary of the Emergency came and went with little media attention. Are we moving on or did we just, like, forget?


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The case of Abu Jundal or Jindal or Zaby or whatever his name is – the Lashkar handler of the 26/11 attacks sent to India by Saudi Arabia – is exciting but it is still in its early stages. Rather than focus their hysterics only on Pakistan, the Indian television media might like to look at it as a story first and probe all angles rather than jump into jingoistic propaganda.


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The Indian media – particularly TV – got itself into a bit of a bind over Pakistan’s flip-flop over the release of Sarabjit Singh. Sarabjit is a celebrity prisoner whose family has ceaselessly campaigned for his release. Pakistan announced Sarabjit’s name and then changed it the next day to Surjeet Singh. Now the dilemma: should the media show happiness for Surjeet, rage against the machine for Sarabjit, damn Pakistan or blame Pakistan? Is one Indian equal to another or are famous Indians more equal? It is not known how hard Surjeet Singh’s family worked the media to get him released, so perhaps there’s an answer. Also Surjeet Singh walked across the Wagah border and claimed he was a RAW agent, a tag Sarabjit and his family have consistently denied!


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Congratulations to Mid-Day on its 33rd anniversary and a whopping anniversary issue of 200 pages which I haven’t had the time to read yet. Might take me all week!.


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