Ranjona Banerji: Modi mania on news telly

07 Feb,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Narendra Modi gave a speech at a Delhi college and half of India’s TV channels wondered if it was time to anoint him as India’s new prime minister. The Gujarat chief minister has not yet been declared as a PM candidate by either the Bharatiya Janata Party or the National Democratic Alliance. With the general elections due around mid-2014, does this mean we are we going to be subjected to a year and a half of the same discussion on TV? Should Modi be the PM candidate? What will happen if Modi becomes the PM candidate? Will the Janata Dal (United) stay within the NDA? What does Nitish Kumar think and so an ad nauseum.

 

Not that this isn’t an important subject. The problem is that so far not only is Modi’s ascension just speculation, there is a very real fear that we may be discussing nothing else for the next few months. BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad had a tough time on Times Now standing up for his party reserving the right to decide on its own prime ministerial candidate within its own time frame. If the onslaught of the nation’s right to know from Arnab Goswami wasn’t enough, Prasad then decided to take on veteran journalist Kumar Ketkar as well, for being a BJP detractor.
It will be interesting to see whether new channels will telecast all speeches made by chief ministers in the national capital from now on, in case any of them feel they deserve to be prime minister…

 

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Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju has endeared himself to owners and managements of all media houses by bringing up the problem of governments using advertisements as a form of blackmail/coercion. Katju in his inimitable style wants some legal action against governments who behave like this. Owners, managers and editors all concur that governments regularly behave like this, particularly state governments which are more vindictive than the Centre. Some also complained that private companies can be as nasty as the government. Many pointed out that the press – print and television – are pillars of democracy and has to be supported. The additional problem of newspapers and magazines being sold for much less than production cost was also mentioned.

 

It is indeed commendable that so many owners are so concerned about the importance of the press and the role it plays as a vital part of a democracy. These protestations would have been slightly more believable if owners and managements had not resorted to dubious and destructive practices like “paid news” and Medianet and its variations. Much of the degradations of the media today have come from within the media itself and unfortunately, senior journalists have not been strong enough to withstand owner/management pressure.

 

As far as private companies and their advertising choices are concerned it is frankly hilarious that managements are complaining about advertisements being withheld because of negative stories which are well within journalistic rights. I know of no management which has supported a journalist doing a story which might hurt advertising. In fact, enormous pressure is put on senior editors whenever management gets to hear about such an impending story. This breast-beating to Mr Katju is nothing short of hypocrisy.

 

The Press Council chairman may do well to take a closer look at how media houses function and speak to more journalists if he really wants to clean up the system. He can start with “paid news”. I put the term in inverted commas in the desperate hope that it has not yet become a legitimate part of the lexicon.

 

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