Ranjona Banerji: Time for Indian media to stand up

17 Jun,2014

Ranjona Banerji

 

The question about the impartiality of the media has assumed larger and more significant proportions ever since the new Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power at the Centre. We already saw changes and sackings before the elections because senior editors were not genuflecting enough before the prime ministerial hopeful. We saw a whole media group changing tack after it was taken over by India’s biggest industrialist.

 

But now that we are a month into the election results, genuflecting at the altar of government cannot be a consistent feature of a media which prides itself on being a pillar of democracy. Even countries which India pillories – like Pakistan – have a more resistant media. Let’s not forget China, where is there is a constant effort to fight a totalitarian regime. Can India afford a media that is bound to the business interests of a few industrialists who must therefore appease or stroke the ego of a “muscular” new government?

 

The last Congress government and its ministers and spokespersons were made fun of or castigated by the media and rightly so. And this government must also now bear the burden of media scrutiny and criticism. And yet, one has heard the most remarkable excuses from people within the media – it is too early, give them time, they have so much to do. All these journalists need to get out of their journalistic costumes and start doing what they really want – become official spokespersons for the new government or work in its media offices.

 

The same holds true for journalists who acted as cheerleaders for the last government or for any government. But in spite of all the accusations hurled at journalists for not being anti-Congress enough, the support for the BJP within the media especially by expert columnists and owners is unprecedented. Editors were not sacked and whole enterprises not overturned because journalists did not like Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi. But look at Open, Network 18…

 

“Inflation rises to 5-month high of 6%” says a Times of India headline. The blame has been apportioned to “rising food prices, below-par monsoon, Iraq turmoil”, all of which will only make matters worse. I use this as an example, since the Times of India is one of India’s most balanced, middle-of-the-road papers adhering strictly to the tenets of the Planet of Bennett Coleman.

 

Yet, when the last UPA government had cited global, meteorological or any other reasons for inflation, it had been torn apart by the media and the opposition. And yet, the very same reasons are now apparently acceptable. Obviously, an opposition’s got to do what an opposition’s got to do but the media doesn’t really have to sit back and accept it. If the UPA government was fudging with its excuses, then so is this one and it is up to the media to call it to account.

 

Time for the Indian media to stop crawling on its collective belly and stand up.

 

**

 

I am not a football fan (yes, you can take me out and shoot me later) but even I cringe on behalf of all football fans at the utter travesty of the special Indian World Cup coverage put together by Sony. The tamasha that moves around IPL should exist in its own IPL universe since IPL is a travesty of cricket for purists. But why apply those same meagre standards to poor football? If even I know that your pre-match shows are pointless annoying froth, then you are really doing something wrong…

 

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