Ranjona Banerji: Hysteria and hypocrisy rule news media

08 Aug,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Was the news that the Supreme Court refused to stay the Bombay High Court order that the BCCI constitute another panel to probe into spot-fixing and betting in the IPL not important enough to make Page 1? The Hindustan Times obviously thought it did but strangely The Times of India directed the news to the sports pages.

 

The imminent war with Pakistan as desired by our news channels and the fight over the wording of the statement about the killing of five Indian soldiers got Page 1 prominence. That is understandable, except that the infiltration into Indian territory by Pakistanis – terrorists or soldiers or both – has practically been forgotten in the shouting matches on TV and in print. The words used by the Indian defence minister and how and why he used those words and where he got them from is now of paramount importance.

 

Given media’s poor understanding of geopolitics and its predilection to outright sentimental hysteria whenever soldiers are mentioned, it may be wiser for the future of the neighbourhood if the media’s focus remains on cricket rather than war. We can still blame Pakistan – Dawood Ibrahim the lynchpin of all crime in India still lives there happily – but we can perhaps avoid imminent destruction.

 

Sarcasm apart, the lack of distinction between yellow and sensationalist journalism and more serious or at any rate thoughtful journalism in India is beginning to hurt us now. The race to reach the lowest common denominator cannot be healthy in the long run.

 

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The Supreme Court has commented that the contents of the Radia tapes are more dangerous than the 2G scam. This is a remark which has to be taken very seriously. There can be little doubt that the amount of money lost to the exchequer in the sale of bandwidth to telecom companies, as estimated by the Comptroller and Auditor General, was terrifying. But there was much more that the taped conversations of Niira Radia, boss of a public relations company revealed. There was the nexus between journalists, business houses and politicians. There was the influence that corporates wielded in all spheres of official decision-making. There were the journalists who agreed to act as brokers or spokespersons for political parties and corporate houses.

 

The tapes in fact showed the world the shady wheeling-dealing that runs India. The impact on the media at the time was substantial but fleeting. Barkha Dutt continued with NDTV in spite of fairly damning phone calls and Vir Sanghvi lost his much-looked-forward to political column in Hindustan Times but retained his food column for the same group. He suffered more and even tendered an apology. Dutt did not appear to suffer – at least not publicly – and also refused to apologise.

 

The dent to Indian journalism however has not gone away. Even if members of the public did not necessarily understand what had happened and even if the media has not been affected in terms of revenue or reader or viewership loss, we know that our credibility has taken a beating. Even worse, we know that we do not trust each other. If the Supreme Court reopens discussion into the Radia tapes, can we afford to brush them under the carpet a second time?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own

 

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