Ranjona Banerji: Election of the Trivial & Telegenic

22 Apr,2014

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

If this general election is indeed a watershed moment for Indian polity then it is no less a groundbreaker for the Indian media. Television has dominated this election practically setting agendas and leading the battle from the frontlines when it comes to chosen candidates and parties. The battle is won by the trivial and the telegenic. The smaller India grows in terms of communication thanks to telephony and technology, the larger the disconnect from reality: or so it appears.

 

If the media is going to play such a significant role from here on, then the elements within the media must come out and identify themselves by their ideological and philosophical bearings. The old argument used by journals that they are all things to all people cannot stand any longer. It is in many cases patently untrue. Further, it has reached a stage where you are taking readers for a ride.

 

Television has no such argument at all and instead has created an atmosphere of rumours, allegations and gossip to thrive. Even within the media fraternity, there is a constant stream of stories about which channel has been sold to which political party or who favours which candidate. Some parties are barely being mentioned when it is evident that they will have some bearing on these elections. Thrown a few corporate houses into the mix and you have a great Indian muddle which barely resembles a delicious homemade khichdi.

 

Who has financed all these opinion polls to project election results for instance? What is the consumer of news to make of them when ground reports from journalists are at odds with those surveys? In a two-month long voting schedule, a constant stream of opinion polls amounts in fact to trying to influence those who have not yet voted, even if the Election Commission has not cottoned on to it yet. The figures for conducting these polls which are going round the grapevine are astronomical.

 

It is time therefore for all newspapers, news channels and websites to declare their political leanings. There is no shame in this. All over the world, the reader and viewer knows what their chosen media outlet stands for. This is not just about individual columnists to declare their leanings. This is about the organisation itself. Given the growth of the influence of the media – and these are strong words – to fool your consumer any more is tantamount to fraud.

 

It is evident that it is not just a nudge from one corporate house and a wink from another that dictates media flow. We have seen epic and sudden changes of direction from left to right to centre and back. What most newspapers do to cover this up is provide a variety of columnists on their opinion pages to portray first one point of view and then another to prove that they are “neutral”. It no longer cuts it.

 

TV of course is another jungle with its own rules, quite distinct in some cases from print. Editorialising and on the spot opinion-making is now par for the course. As a very senior editor who has a career in both print and television pointed out to me, if a star anchor, who is also the editor, asks a young reporter on live television, “Isn’t the political rally proving what I say?”, what is the young reporter to do? Disagreeing with the boss is not an option. And so news is created, not reported.

 

For a long time in India, journalists were more left of centre than right but that was not an absolute truth. For instance Girilal Jain, a colossus in the Times of India was distinctly right of centre and the Indian Express was distinctly anti-establishment in the days when the only establishment was Congress.

 

One must distinguish between the need for media outlets to declare their politics and the accusations and muck thrown at individuals on social media. Gutter language and threats will continue. But now the target will be clear and much larger. And in the interests of fairness, everyone will have a target!

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Election of the Trivial & Telegenic”

  1. Toilet Ramesh says:

    Congress crooks & Sonia Gandhi would have never passed RTI Act if they knew that they would get exposed through RTI in future.

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