Ranjona Banerji: Move over FBI, NIA: Indian TV news can solve both Boston and Bengaluru bombings!

19 Apr,2013

By Ranjona Banerji


The way journalism can be practised is always up for scrutiny and rightly so. Because there’s a lot that the media does to mould or at least suggest to public opinion. Well, enough of all that. Let’s get down to it. Two bomb blasts in two cities and two completely different reactions. A bomb goes off towards the end of the famous Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring many others. A bomb goes off outside the BJP office in Bengaluru, injuring many. The US authorities and media have been careful and circumspect not to jump to conclusions and apportion blame before due investigation. One media outlet which did leap to a finding was made to quickly leap back.


Quite another story in India of course. Within minutes of the Bengaluru blasts, our politicians, investigating agencies and our television channels knew who had done it and why they had done it. In fact, since the Boston bombings were suspected to have involved pressure cookers, the Indian media was quite willing to speculate and advise Barack Obama, the CIA, FBI, Boston Police department on who was responsible for those as well.


A lesson for the media here ought to come from the embarrassment (actually there is no evidence that anyone was embarrassed except me, on behalf of all media!) of jumping to the wrong conclusion after the Norway bomb blasts and shootings. The BBC World Service even had experts on air within a short time telling us which Islamic group was responsible, even while the Norwegian authorities were clear it was too early to tell. A few hours later of course, Anders Breivik was seen shooting teenagers.




Thursday on Twitter was a very amusing day. It started with noted feminist and social commentator Madhu Kishwar who a while ago made a little segue from left to right. She tweeted that someone senior in the Gujarat government had told her that there was a death threat to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi from the Congress and social activist Teesta Setalvad. When this created an uproar, she deleted the tweet. However, nothing on the internet is lost forever so of course someone had taken a picture of the tweet which then did the rounds. Then Kishwar re-issued the same tweet with some modifications.


It’s a difficult world out there in 140 Character Land and sometimes, discretion seems a bit more sensible than extravagant expression. This episode was still bubbling away when former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf ran away from the court which ordered his arrest. This act of extreme bravery from the former dictator caused great hilarity on the social networking site.


Then the Supreme Court decided to show the same “mercy” to seven other 1993 bomb blasts convicts after it showed such heart for film star Sanjay Dutt the day before. Afternoon TV anchors were very pleased with the phrase “course correction” by the Supreme Court, which they used again and again.




Increasing incidences of public apathy caught on camera caused much hand-wringing on TV debates. There have been a couple of horrific instances of a woman bleeding to death on the road and another woman being beaten up while bystanders did nothing. Police harassment was seen as the main reason for people not wanting to get involved. But there are also enough examples of people going out of their way to help so sociological assumptions made on two stories seems to be more bubblegum pop than hard rock.




Kolkata’s Presidency University made it to Sagorika Ghosh’s Face the Nation on CNN-IBN to discuss the way the recent vandalism allegedly by Trinamool Congress workers had affected the institution. As a former student of Presidency College (as it was then) I was very proud and all but I am not sure that the programme served much purpose. Why Presidency was and is so important was not properly explained and since there was no government representative on the panel of students, staff and alumnus Aparna Sen, it became something of a self-congratulatory trip. Still, it was nice to see the old college again.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are her own. You can reach her via Twitter at @ranjona


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