Ranjona Banerji: Knives out for AAP & Kejriwal as media tries to be judge, jury & executioner

07 Jan,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


When the India Against Corruption movement started two years ago, I like so many else, watched its genesis with amazement on TV. I got so amazed in fact at the crowds that I dragged a friend of mine, who is interested in political affairs, to Mumbai’s Azad Maidan to see these massive crowds of people coming out in solidarity against corruption.


Alas, like corruption is endemic in the Indian system so is exaggeration in the media. There were barely 500 people at Azad Maidan. Luckily for disappointed journalists, the Press Club is pretty close to Azad Maidan and we could drown our murdered amazement and toast our inherent cynicism with plenty of gin, vodka and as other friends joined us, rum.


Reporters I spoke to who had spent more time at the rally said crowds rose to about 1000. At the basis of a journalist’s mindset is cynicism or for those of a kinder mien, scepticism. And the reason for this long-winded personal recounting is that I could no longer look at the India Against Corruption movement with anything but a questioning air after that day in Azad Maidan.


If I had believed TV news, I would have thought this really was comparable to the Independence Movement, to Jayaprakash Narain’s revolt against Indira Gandhi and so on. And when the last India Against Corruption meeting in Mumbai’s MMRDA grounds in Bandra fizzled out one December, it seemed to be in the fitness of things.


However, even cynics like me must acknowledge that Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party have pulled off a coup in the Delhi Assembly elections. They have shaken the political establishment and sent strategists running for cover. But the media reaction is most curious of all. The media built both IAC and AAP, and in the run up to the election gave more coverage to the candidate for Delhi chief minister than even to the BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful.


But as soon as the government was formed, the knives were out. The same TV channels which had lauded Kejriwal and the AAP as the greatest political invention since democracy was established by the ancient Greeks now decided to expose their somewhat extravagant promises. Let’s take Headlines Today’s latest sting operation on corruption in various government departments in Delhi. By itself the Headlines Today sting was a brave and necessary act of journalism, even for someone who is ambivalent on sting operations which create news rather than report on them.


The problem is the positioning of the sting as a failure of a nine-day-old government and the insinuation that the new party has already fallen apart on its promises. Maybe the government will fail and maybe it won’t. But this judge, jury and executioner attitude of the media does not do it credit. Moreover, it sounds both childish and churlish.


By all means do a sting operation but present it as just that – the continuing shameless manipulation of the system by petty government officers and bureaucrats. Sentencing can wait. It ruins a perfectly good expose of government corruption if nothing else.


The rest of TV seems unable to get out of a Congress-versus-Bharatiya Janata Party mindset. Everything that happens is seen through that prism and it is definitely tedious and boring now. The same faces saying the same things everyday and the same accusations being exchanged. There has to be something more to a journalists’ life than this.


Meanwhile Lok Sabha TV had an excellent and informative discussion on the recent elections in Bangladesh and the skewed attitudes of western powers when it comes to South Asia. You know Bangladesh? That country next door?


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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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Knives out for AAP & Kejriwal as media tries to be judge, jury & executioner”

  1. Guest says:

    If the media were a speculator on the stock exchange, one would imagine it to be someone exaggerating the swings up and down, enhancing the volatility in share prices. Why not be a long term investor in the Indian growth story, playing up responsibly all that is going both right and wrong ? There was genuine democracy in India before AAP burst upon the scene like a refreshing summer downpour, as there will be when, one suspects, it peters out.

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