Ranjona Banerji: Phew!

10 Jun,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


The Mumbai Press Club’s RedInk Awards have set a standard now for journalists and journalism in India. Delhi has long considered itself the hub of journalism in India – but that is only because it is the national capital. But India has a long tradition of strong city and regional newspapers and although many of them have ventured on to the national stage, we as journalists still maintain some of our local pride – and prejudice. And Bombay and Mumbai both have made remarkable contributions to Indian journalism and continue to do so.


This was perhaps most evident at the Press Club Awards on Saturday night. It was not a “mine is bigger than yours” kind of evening, the sort I have experienced in Delhi on visits there. In this I have to agree with Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Times Now. We have a sort of irreverence that is very evident and yes, that famous Mumbai “bindaas” attitude. And woe betide anyone who throws around their own attitude in an attempt at self-aggrandisement. They will be brought down a peg or two before a peg or two are knocked back.


Or am I being romantic? This is my last week as a resident of Mumbai after too many years to count. Next week, I shall be based in Dehradun looking at the world from a Himalayan perspective, craving the stench of drying Harpodon Neherius! All journalists after all should be cynical and sceptical before they are anything else. You believe anything too readily, you take too much at face value and you are belying the first tenet of being permanently suspicious.


Back to the Press Club awards. The panel discussion on the media coverage of the general elections and the bias or otherwise towards then hope and now prime minister Narendra Modi was titled: “Elections 2014: Were we fair or did we stoke the NaMo wave” was lively and occasionally acrimonious. The moderator was Uday Shankar, CEO of Star and the other questioner was Piyush Pandey of O&M, who was part of the Narendra Modi campaign team. The “guests” – a neat legerdemain by Press Club president Gurbir Singh – were Kumar Ketkar, veteran journalist and just retired as editor of Divya Marathi, Rajdeep Sardesai, till recently editor in chief of CNNIBN and Arnab Goswami, editor in chief of Times Now.


Of the lot, Ketkar was most scathing of the way journalists behaved with reference to Modi and the manner in which all manner of stories about the “Gujarat model” were swallowed whole and without question. Sardesai felt there were some logistical and such problems at work – what was unspoken was understood. Sardesai was also critical of what he called “supari” journalism and hagiography masquerading as journalism. Goswami was kinder to the tribe but did make the comment about Mumbai journalists being less in awe of politicians. Ketkar got the most applause from an audience made up mainly of journalists, even beating Goswami’s undoubted star quality.


Uday Shankar was brilliant as a host. He asked tough questions, took the panellists on and there were moments when it seemed a bit like prime time on any new channel any night in India… The big disappointment was Pandey who could at best come up with some glib lines like the media didn’t create the wave but rode the wave which may sell Dairy Milk chocolates but was singularly unimpressive. He also kept harping on the fact that journalists were human beings. This assumption could have been easily countered by any one of the hundreds of journalists present. The funniest for me was when he called everyone else a journalist and himself a “writer”, sotto voce: “in advertising”. Many bitchy responses come to mind but I am controlling myself. Self-aggrandisement is an essential part of advertising…


Claws retracted. Our new Information & Broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar was dressed in his favourite pink (I won Rs 30 for guessing that right from the owner of mxmindia.com Pradyuman Maheshwari). But he also seemed a tad nervous. I have seen addressing press conferences in his own milieu in Delhi where he was confident and at ease. So the occasion, his new position or the less familiar faces of Mumbai’s journalists may have been a bit daunting.


It must be pointed out that both Goswami and Sardesai’s channels can easily be accused of going soft on Modi and his gigantic claims of greatness. Goswami’s aggression with Rahul Gandhi was not to be seen when he interviewed Modi. CNNIBN as we all know has swung to the right and therefore the dialogue in the channel changed substantially.


At the end of the day though, the awards were to be treasured as this is journalists honouring themselves – as the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award Mrinal Pande pointed out. Congratulations to her and to all the winners and to the Mumbai Press Club for putting on a great show that goes from strength to strength. Pande talked about the inferiority that language journalists feel when it comes to the English media and this is one notion which should be destroyed and indeed treated as nonsensical. We all do – or ought to do – the same job and the language we use to do it has to be irrelevant. The next task for the Mumbai Press Club?


And finally, let’s hark back to the beginning. In his opening speech, Gurbir Singh joked that on his way to the NCPA in Nariman Point he got stuck in a traffic jam on Pedder Road caused by journalists queuing up outside Antila for jobs. It’s not a joke really, this reference to the home of Mukesh Ambani of Reliance which has just bought Network18. Corporate interference in the biggest threat that journalism faces today and we all know it and many have paid the price. Those who debase themselves now will find that posterity will be very unkind to them. As it should be.


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