Ranjona Banerji: When editors get into party-mode

25 Mar,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

MJ Akbar, respected and well-known journalist, joins the Bharatiya Janata Party. There is applause at one side of the political spectrum and disquiet at the other. Akbar, like anyone else, is free to do what he wants. This is not the first time he has taken to politics – he was with the Congress in Rajiv Gandhi’s time.

 

The question to be asked is not about Akbar himself – because he is one of many – but about journalists leaning towards political parties or being members of political parties or being outright supporters of particular politicians. If objectivity is a cornerstone of journalism, then joining a political party means that you are immediately disqualified.  But there are subtle arguments that lurk about that deny such an extremist position.

 

A reporter and a sub-editor for instance need to be objective. But editors and columnists? They are allowed a little leeway. For instance, an opinion writer can be politically left or right – without necessarily being part of or approving of political parties that follow a similar ideology. But it’s a fine line and where should one draw it?If an editor or a columnist – who is a journalist, not an academic or analyst and so on – is openly supporting a politician or a political party, what happens then? In India, unfortunately, media houses do not openly declare their political leanings. They all claim to be all things to all people but in fact overtly or covertly support one party or another. The odd thing is, they can declare their political leanings without any damage to credibility. Everyone knows what The Guardian or what Fox News stands for.

 

The essence of journalism is to criticise everyone and perhaps we need to be more stringent about that. Also, when newspapers invite non-journalists as columnists, they need to make their political leanings clear.

 

And finally, it ought to be understood that once you join a political party, you are no longer an independent-thinking journalist. At best, you can edit the mouthpiece of the party to which you belong.

 

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Some of the bluster against media houses however remains from disgruntled supporters of some political party or agenda who feel they’re not getting fair treatment from every single media house. However, since one can easily count people who are on some side, these accusations are easily debunked. I am amused though by fellow journalists who stridently object to editors who are seen as favouring one side but have ample excuses for those who favour another side. Double standards of course are a human failing and perhaps even a sound survival device.

 

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Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN has discussed media responsibility in his column for Hindustan Times. His argument is partly about attacks on the media and the difficulty in starting an independent media house in India. I must however disagree when he makes a case for owners, saying that it is unfair to tag them as evil when responsibility must end with the editor. That is true in an ideal world. What is true in today’s media is that owners do play a role in determining how a TV channel or newspaper or website responds to news. And the phenomenon of “paid news” is a deal struck by the managements of media houses, not by journalists. Yes, journalists are not innocent but that does not mean that owners are not guilty.

 

http://www.hindustantimes.com/comment/rajdeepsardesai/time-for-media-to-turn-the-gaze-inwards/article1-1199548.aspx

 

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I make this plea in vain to Star Sports India – for the umpteenth time. If it could please not bother to buy tennis tournaments that it does not want to show in their entirety. This week’s Miami Open coverage has been upstaged by football and motorcycles. Agreed, Star Sports is free to show what it wants. But tennis fans don’t really want to watch a tournament in between the requirements of other sports. So if your six channels are not enough and one channel is reserved for endless reruns of Jai Ho, leave tennis alone and let someone else show it. This dog in the manger attitude is winning you no fans.

 

It might also be polite if whoever runs the @starsportsindia twitter handle would answer questions put to it now and then.

 

This is not the first time I have discussed this and I am guessing it will not be the last…

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: When editors get into party-mode”

  1. Kaushik says:

    Ranjona Banerji herself can’t continue to be a journalist as her biased views are there for all to see. We would be better off then.

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