Ranjona Banerji: So why did Times make a front-page statement?

24 Jan,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Truth is, we have no political masters, nor do we have any hidden agenda. The only side we take is that of our readers.”

So what compels a newspaper to make this statement, especially one that declares it is “the world’s largest circulated English newspaper”?

The Times of India’s edition of January 23, 2014 carried this on the front page. The rather thin (leading to some very ugly hyphenation) single column headlined “To Our Readers” was a declaration that although the newspaper had been accused of first supporting and then turning against the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party, in fact it is for no one and against no one and will support whoever does the “right thing”.

The newspaper also pointed out its philosophy, such as it is, which includes belief in “the primacy of the individual over the state, and that democracy in its truest sense is the power of one. We believe in personal liberty and in freedom of choice.” There is more in the same vein.

As to why TOI decided to make this announcement is unclear, except for the allegations that it had switched horses mid-stream regarding the Aam Aadmi Party. But so what? As it itself declares, it has been accused supporting one or the political party in the past and has not bothered to make any front page announcements. Is it because the AAP is the new party of the middle classes, which is TOI’s core readership? Or has someone inside Bennett Coleman suddenly developed a very thin skin?

The worst that The Times of India has been accused of is not patronage of a political party. The worst has to do with money: the introduction of Medianet where news items are sold for a hefty price and for private treaties, where certain business houses and entities can ensure good coverage for themselves.

Obviously, there were no mentions of either in this intriguing, and if one may point out, clumsily written and punctuated, front-page editorial declaration.

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However, it is also true that the media seems to be getting polarised politically in a manner last seen during the BJP’s Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the late 1980s. Journals and journalists both declared themselves to be pro-BJP and Hindutva, with an emphasis on a preference for economic reform as well as religious majoritarism. Much of this media anger was also against Congress hegemony and also showed itself in massive support for VP Singh’s breakaway movement.

Since then, the media has been seen as supporting one or the other political direction although very often the accusations are quite wild. Right now the Indian media is clearly heading towards the Right – except for the gauntlet thrown down by the Aam Aadmi Party and its particular brand of agitation politics. And perhaps that is where TOI’s confusion begins.

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The biggest current problem for the Indian media and television in particular is that it cannot see beyond Delhi. If the Gujarat chief minister was the front page hero for almost six months, he has been ousted by Arvind Kejriwal. Much as the AAP and Kejriwal have changed the game, they are certainly not the only stories in India. Yet day after day we are subjected to a series of Delhi-centric stories.

Part of the problem is that Delhi has become the epicentre of journalism in India. As a result, once strong regional media entities have been forced to pay extra attention to the national capital. Most TV channels are headquartered in Delhi – Times Now being the notable exception amongst the top English channels. And our star TV anchors cannot see beyond their neighbourhood. Who knows what has been happening in India and the world over the past couple of weeks. All we know is that Sunanda Pushkar thought her husband was having an affair and then may or may not have killed herself and that Arvind Kejriwal slept on the streets next to his car for a few night until he was sent some hot paranthas.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are her own. Ranjona Banerji can be reached at @ranjona

Post a Comment 

One response to “Ranjona Banerji: So why did Times make a front-page statement?”

  1. Guest says:

    The media loves a good story, but is not wedded to any party or point of view. If someone drops the ball comprehensively, he gets clobbered, even more swiftly on the channels than in print. That is something AAP is discovering. May it stay that way.

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