Ranjona Banerji: Big Brother I&B

26 Dec,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Information and Broadcasting ministry has started behaving like the Ministry of Magic under the influence of Voldemort. In a note to TV channels, the ministry has said that some channels have not been showing “due responsibility and maturity” in covering the post gang-rape protests in New Delhi and that “this telecast is likely to cause deterioration in the law & order situation, hindering the efforts of the law enforcing authorities”.

 

We all know that TV channels sometimes display signs of immaturity or that coverage can get skewed or events magnified. But that is hardly the government’s problem. Of course, all that happened in the non-stop coverage of the Delhi protests for five days was that the ruling government’s ineptitude was exposed. Sheila Dixit, chief minister of Delhi, may belong to the Congress but she was quick to shift the blame for the police’s behaviour to the lieutenant-governor of Delhi and by implication to the Centre.

 

The Delhi protests and the excessive force used by the police have turned out to be a public relations disaster for the UPA. It is telling that one of its responses has been to issue a warning to TV channels to behave better. How TV channels behave and do not behave is a subject for the viewer to deal with and for any transgressions of perceived behaviour, there is the National Broadcasters’ Association and other such bodies. The government does itself no favours by behaving like Big Brother. It is interesting that this note comes after Delhi police commissioner Neeraj Kumar blamed the way the media had handled the protests to Rajdeep Sardesai on CNN-IBN.

 

This is not the first time that the UPA government has tried to muzzle dissent or disagreement. It is a testament to the power of television that the government finds its criticism so unpalatable. What seems incredible is that once more it has succumbed to knee-jerk tactics which can only come back to bite it in the posterior. Revealing its insecurities in this manner only make it easy fodder for the media as the ruling coalition approaches the next general elections.

 

And as for the media, how did it indeed cover these protests? Did it go overboard? Possibly. Did it forget all about news in general as it concentrated on one event? Yes. Did studio discussions descend into incomprehensible chatter as they progressed? So what’s new about that?

 

Those problems remain with TV coverage. Headlines Today this time decided to be with the “people” and display all the immaturity available to it. “Where is Rahul Gandhi” and “Why is the moon waxing” were questions which were a diversion from the very serious issue of rape, male attitudes and policing. NDTV tried to be balanced but Barkha Dutt as usual used the emotional route. Arnab Goswami seemed to be missing in action so Times Now did not thunder and declaim as usual. CNN-IBN was sometimes balanced, sometimes carried away by the crowd dynamics.

 

It is also true however that so many things were happening at the protests and around the riots that what to focus on would have been a very tough choice. Was it rape itself, was the public anger, was it the government’s bizarre responses, was it the Delhi police’s self-congratulatory stance, was it about punishment or the judicial system? In all these questions, by reacting as events progressed rather than working out a strategy, TV channels did seem a little confused. But TV in India is not a medium which makes for meaningful discussion and we all know that. Little that happened seemed to justify a finger-wagging note from the Information and Broadcasting minister.

 

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The funniest tweet going around was that Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement from ODIs to deflect attention from the Delhi protests. As conspiracy theories go this was out there and if true, it didn’t work!

 

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Some newspaper articles stood out. Anup Surendranath wrote in the Hindu on how castration as a punishment for rape will not work: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/castration-is-not-the-right-legal-response/article4232547.ece?homepage=true

Salil Tripathi had a very moving piece in Mint on men and rape: http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/zuZTj0Tz2F02tFsRznUn4H/Delhi-outrage-We-are-the-enemy.html

Flavia Agnes looked at how the police and judicial system deal with rape in Asian Age: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/rape-death-349

And Ayaz Memon put the Delhi rape and the government response succinctly and insightfully in the Mumbai context for his weekly column in the Mumbai edition of Hindustan Times: http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/Mumbai/Women-unsafe-We-are-all-to-blame/Article1-979988.aspx

 

Ranjona Banerji is Contributing Editor, MxMIndia and a senior journalist and commentator. The views expressed here are her own

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Big Brother I&B”

  1. prakul says:

    Ultimate, Mind Blowing, Hats Off… Very Good Article…

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