Ranjona Banerji: How the media is everyone’s whipping boy

25 Feb,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


The media is now everyone’s whipping boy and there is no need for the media to get defensive about this. As long as everyone thinks you’re doing everything wrong, it is clear that you are doing everything right. The expression “paid media” is now indiscriminately used to describe journalists who do not subscribe to your political point of view, when the term within the media is used to describe managements who sell editorial space to political parties or politicians without informing readers or viewers.


Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party has accused the media of being pro-Bharatiya Janata Party and pro-Congress and also said that some of the media is dancing to the diktats of Mukesh Ambani and Reliance. More specifically, the media he says is either pro-Narendra Modi or pro-Rahul Gandhi; the unspoken implication being that the media is anti-him. However, through 2011 the media was extremely pro-Kejriwal and the India Against Corruption movement headed by Anna Hazare. One might wager that without media support, the IAC movement would have gone nowhere. Non-stop coverage of every IAC event, gross exaggeration of public participation figures all ensured that IAC, Hazare, Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia, Kumar Vishwas, Kiran  Bedi, Prashant Bhushan and others became household names.


India’s controversial former chief of army staff VK Singh has also jumped into the fray, calling journalists “presstitutes”. This is how urbandictionary.com describes “presstitute”: “A term coined by Gerald Celente and often used by independent journalists and writers in the alternative media in reference to journalists and talking heads in the mainstream media who give biased and predetermined views in favour of the government and corporations, thus neglecting their fundamental duty of reporting news impartially. It is a portmanteau of press and prostitute.”


In fact, I would question Celente’s (an American “trend forecaster) wisdom and political correctness in damning commercial sex workers (the now accepted term for prostitutes) by associating them with the media and with journalists.


Jokes aside, Singh has been angry for a number of reasons – his various dates of birth did not sit well with either the Indian Army, the GOI or the Supreme Court, his various PR efforts sometimes backfired and Indian Express published a story last year about how some troop movements during his tenure were looked at suspiciously by the Government.


The Editors Guild has taken exception to all this media-bashing and issued a strong statement: “Ironically, leaders who built up reputations and support by engaging the public through the media are now turning on the very media when they come under critical scrutiny…


“The media that question and criticise political leaders and indeed every section of society should of course be open to criticism, even if it is harsh, of its functioning and to its flaws being exposed. The problem arises, however, when abuse and vague, unsubstantiated accusations of corrupt motives take the place of reasoned refutation and debate. An additional danger is that some of the followers could take their cue from the statements of leaders and may not stop with verbal attacks. Both print and television journalists have been subject to physical violence as well by political party workers.”


Physical attacks on journalists are reprehensible and have to be tackled strongly by law and order. But general criticism of the media and of journalists has to be accepted as par for the course. As we have pointed out in these columns, there are clear instances of media bias on display at times and criticism of political parties, politicians and big business is sometimes a carefully calibrated exercise.


The spread of the tentacles of lobbyists and PR people is well-known when it comes to film and business journalism for instance. And the Niira Radia tapes exposed the susceptibility of some of India’s biggest names. These are problems which the media must discuss more stringently, or criticism from those we criticise will only get stronger.


If we don’t guard ourselves, someone else is going to try and do it for us. And that would be the real disaster.


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