Ranjona Banerji: Media must essay role of a watchdog

23 May,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


There is an almost absurd breast-beating happening in one section of the media in India and an equally ridiculous whiny chest-thumping in the other ever since Narendra Modi was elected to become Prime Minister of India. At the end of the day, this was just an election. Yes, perhaps a very significant and joyous election from Modi and the BJP’s point of view and a devastatingly miserable election from the Congress’s point of view, but still, just an election.


Contrary to how it might appear to some in the media, goddesses and gods did not descend from Indra’s palace to throw flowers on Modi on May 16 and neither did Beelzebub scratch his way up from the underworld to hand him a horns, hoofs and a tail. Awful as this may sound, Modi is one more prime minister in a long list of prime ministers.


Indeed, it is from here on that the media has to get really serious about its role in a democracy. We are in a situation where the opposition has been cut to bits and no democracy can function without an opposition. The Congress has 44 seats. The other biggest parties are the AIADMK, the TMC and the BJD and there is no guarantee that any of them will play the Opposition’s role. The AAP, of whom many had much hope, is still learning the ropes as far as realpolitik is concerned.


TV sadly is still behaving like a cheerleader. It is apparently the nature of the beast – it cannot escape its moment by moment hysteria and take a wider view. Like that TV camera which shows you 100 people and makes it sound like 100,000 so is TV journalists approach to news. Whether this will ever change or not, my crystal ball will not tell me, but right now it seems unlikely.


However, as we saw with the India Against Corruption movement and then the Aam Aadmi Party, media did a full 180 turn from chief supporters to chief antagonists. Even now, Headlines Today and its editor Rahul Kanwal seem to have some kind of personal grudge against Arvind Kejriwal and his party. Even as Kanwal is now Chief Rah-Rah Boy for Narendra Modi – from his tweets to his broadcasts.


Newspapers have yet to climb down from the election bandwagon and are full of little stories about how many dhoklas are going to be eaten in the new PMO. How over the top this is I cannot say but I do not recall stories about how much chhole bhatura was eaten in the last PMO or the amount of bisi bhele huli anna consumed during Deve Gowda’s term as PM. In between these charming bits of trivia we have an endless stream of advice for the new PM and his team. Do this first, do that first, make this one that minister, speak this way to that world leader… any small acquaintance with the way Narendra Modi functions however should tell them that the new PM is not great on taking advice from all and sundry.


Between the advisory and the cheerleader mode (or the miserable martyr) roles, there has to be space for the main role as veteran journalist Pritish Nandy pointed out in a pertinent piece for Mumbai Mirror, which is that of a watchdog. This dispensation has swept into power on a magic carpet of promises to the Indian people. In between the “N and an A and an M” songs of the new media, we need to keep that eagle eye on what the government does and how it does it.


It is however heartening to note that most of the media realises that this election is as much about a gigantic failure of the Congress and its allies as it is about a rousing victory for Modi and the BJP!




Meanwhile, it is still a wait and watch game as far as changes within the media are concerned as a fallout of this election. And also, whether all those in the media who supported Modi so assiduously will be rewarded…



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