Ranjona Banerji: What News TV producers want India to think

03 May,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The death of an Indian prisoner from being beaten up in a Pakistani jail whipped up Indian television to quite extraordinary heights of outrage and emotion this week. The story of Sarabjit Singh was neither explored in its entirety nor presented to the general public as anything but a symbol of all that is wrong with Indo-Pak relations. Even those who wear their national pride very lightly on their sleeves must know that they are being manipulated by a quite unscrupulous strategy to use “patriotism” to feed the viewership machine. Newspapers must now fall in line with television’s tactics or be left behind – or so it seems.

 

Of course, the Sarabjit story is not new and his family has maintained that he was not a spy – in spite of being found guilty by Pakistan courts. The question for the media however is that how far does it go to control national and international affairs and how much will this current hysteria help Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails.

 

Sarabjit’s is only one story. Surely the case of all those fishermen who are caught sailing into Pakistani waters is more heart-rending? Or will television only pick up those cases where the families are aggressive and TV-friendly? Several accounts suggests that Sarabjit really was an Indian spy – though perhaps no one will dare to say that now for fear of being guillotined for treason. In which case, the story is complicated and murky. Which media outlet has explained to the reader how that system works? We know Agent Vinod and how he operated (or those of you who were foolish enough to see the film do) but how far does RAW go to look after its own, for instance. There are stories around Sarabjit which perhaps will not lead to war with Pakistan.

 

If all these arguments sound heartless it is because the media’s first responsibility must be to be responsible and objective in the way it presents its stories. By all means use Sarabjit as an example but to make him a martyr (why doesn’t any news channel look up the dictionary meaning of martyr and explain which cause exactly Sarabjit voluntarily gave up his life for?) and to push governments into giving him state honours is stretching too many limits.

 

However, if nothing else, the Sarabjit story has proved the extent to which TV news sets the national agenda and the way India thinks. It is no longer about what India wants to know. It is about producers in news television want India to think. I am unsure where we can turn if we want our own minds back.

 

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It’s amusing to see 100 years of Indian cinema being celebrated as 100 years of Bollywood across all media outlets. The two are not the same thing at all. Bollywood refers to a particular type of film which comes out of Mumbai and the term was a derogatory invention dating to the 1970s. Indian cinema is a much larger concept and construct (see, I can use jargon too!) and deserves a larger canvas (and alliterate as well!).

 

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The abuse on Twitter is now upsetting more people than it amuses and certainly parental upbringing manuals must include chapters on the social media as well. CNN-IBN’s Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted a few days that he’s giving up on political tweets because he can neither take the abuse nor the allegations nor the lack of reason thrown at him. Sachin Kalbag of Mid-Day wrote a charming column yesterday about he is also opting out of political tweets, citing from the seminal media film, Network. http://www.mid- day.com/columnists/2013/may/020513-mad-as-hell-and-cant-take-it-anymore.htm

 

I’m reserving comment now to save it for a later date!

 

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