Ranjona Banerji: News media and its political leanings

04 Feb,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

If you go by the internet alone, the Indian media is involved in some gigantic Spy vs Spy battle where Congress and BJP aligned journalists are playing a cloak and dagger game as sinister and silly as the one in Mad magazine. The words “paid media” are used so often that they have stopped being tiresome and are now just funny.

 

And yet and yet, there is something that is going on under the surface, a division in the journalistic world perhaps not seen on this scale since the BJP’s rath yatra and the split in the country between those who wanted to break down a mosque to build a temple and those who did not. At that time, many journalists were quite surprised to discover that their colleagues were actually not as “secular” as they seemed and many were quite turned on by the religious sectarianism propounded by LK Advani and his BJP. The default image of the journalist as a jhola-bag-carrying Commie was forever banished.

 

But there is a subtle difference between what happened then and what is happening now. At that time, individual journalists expressed their choices. For instance, The Times of India was a middle of the road newspaper, rather dull in fact while its editor Girilal Jain was a Hindutva supporter. The ownership played little role. The Indian Express and Ramnath Goenka were openly anti-Congress but in those days, pre the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, there was a sort of innocence as far as religious loyalties were concerned.

 

Now, it is managements who are setting the agenda and journalists who are falling in line – some, it must be said, with more enthusiasm than others. TV18 has been the most obvious and the most prominent to recently align itself with the political right and most notably with the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Before this switch though Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN had been accused of being in favour of the Congress. Even now, Karan Thapar is scrupulously fair and Sagorika Ghose is seen as the last Congress outpost in a BJP bastion! And what about the others? NDTV has long been accused of being pro-Congress. But during the Kargil “war-like” situation, others called it out for its “embedded” journalism which benefitted the BJP electorally.

 

I worked with The Times of India in Ahmedabad during the Gujarat riots of 2002. Despite enormous pressure on the newspaper ownership and management from the governments in Delhi and Gandhinagar to stop our edition from reporting on the riots freely and fairly, the management not only stood by us but supported us wholeheartedly.

 

The Living Media group has been accused of being pro-Sangh Parivar for some years now. And there was a time when its flagship magazine India Today was clearly tilted towards the right. (I worked with the group for many years in the 1980s when no such tilt was visible or conveyed to us.) But in that case, what does one make of the So Sorry cartoon series on Headlines Today which lampoons all Indian politicians quite superbly? This is unlike the once excellent The Week That Wasn’t on CNN-IBN which has suffered since TV18 turned right. It’s a tough call here – maybe they change their minds from week to week.

 

One of the reasons why The Hindu apparently removed Siddharth Vardarajan as editor was because he did not give enough coverage to Narendra Modi on the front pages of that venerable newspaper. But The Hindu has always been seen as a pro-Left newspaper (and therefore not pro-right). So what is one to make of that?

 

The Indian Express often receives the most flak from the rightwing on social media so evidently it has not stuck to the Ramnath Goenka brief.

 

The fact is that because the Indian media does not openly align with political parties or movements, confusion is easy and suspicions even easier. In the UK, for instance everyone knows where a Guardian reader stands politically vis-a-vis a Daily Telegraph reader. The best compliment a newspaper or media group can be paid in India one supposes is when all groups accuse it of being biased. That means that something is being done right.

 

The new player in the pack is the Aam Aadmi Party which has learnt the game very quickly and throws around allegations of media conspiracy theories with impunity. The irony in the fact that several senior journalists have jumped on to the AAP bandwagon does not occur to them. That is not surprising because irony-deficiency is a well-known symptom in the congenitally self-righteous.

 

In all this, the maximum confusion is over the expression “paid news”. When the media uses the phrase, it is a direct reference to money taken by newspaper or media house managements from a political party to get favourable news printed. This is also how the Election Commission uses the phrase. When social media uses the phrase, it means any journalist who does not agree with the political position of the accuser! Ah well, sticks and stones.

 

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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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: News media and its political leanings”

  1. Truth says:

    bullcrap.. only an idiot with think TV18 group is pro-Modi.. for libtard like this ugly author, anyone not hating or abusing Modi is pro-Modi

  2. Guest says:

    The sheer diversity and spread of the media and especially the liberating force of the internet help bring a balanced meal to the viewer / reader. Else, with quite a few media outlets directly owned by politicians, others by businessmen who are in this space as a strategic investment to further their main commercial interests, then the issues of bias occasioned by ideology or commerce, things are becoming challenging. Each such column send a shaft of light cutting through the fog.

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