Ranjona Banerji: Why should the media bend when it can crawl?

19 Aug,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Arguably, the most historic and memorable speech made in India on Independence Day was by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947. Can you imagine if 24 hour news television had been invented then? The breathless dissection of every “and” and “but”, the mad scramble to get to the true meaning of “tryst” and the inescapable feeling that our lives from now on would be ruled by a nightly meeting with the banal.

 

I cannot remember any other speech by any prime minister being followed so closely as that of the new messiah. Frankly, Independence Day speeches have so far been treated as routine events, no matter who made them. But there’s a new sheriff in town and he demands constant genuflection from a media which is all too happy to comply.
Or is it? The media seems to have divided itself into a few camps. The young guns on TV are all gungho and nationalistic and they are all for the new prime minister. Worship first, questions later seems to be the credo they live by. The older lot have decided that their earlier enthusiasm was a little misplaced and many of those in print have returned to a bit of scepticism.

 

The overriding feeling however is still veering towards “Give the new government a chance”… This is a remarkable line for journalists to take. The very essence of our job is to be a pain in the nether regions, ask uncomfortable questions and make people’s lives a misery. The one group which does not adhere to this policy is the business journalist of course (should I qualify that damning indictment by adding an “any more” to it? I wish in all conscience I could… The fact that most business papers and pages and channels are PR vehicles or stock market trend-trackers is taken for granted. No one expects more). I know the glamour journalist usually gets slammed for being PR bunnies but almost all the glamour journalists I know are a treasure trove of salacious stories that their editors/publishers will not let them reveal.

 

Newspaper editorials, columns and occasionally Karan Thapar on Headlines Today remain somewhat critical of the new government. The rest are struggling to find some topics to discuss night after night because without controversy and/or outrage there can be no debate. And if you are a self-appointed cheerleader of the government, then there is not enough matter to create excitement out of.

 

The same journalists who had hissy fits because no one in the last government spoke when it was spoken to has decided to give a long leash to the new government where no one speaks either. And that is why an Independence Day speech full of tall promises and pedestrian platitudes has got India’s media in a tizzy. What else have the genuflectors got to go on?

 

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India’s ignominious loss to England in cricket has caused much excoriating pain and demands for evisceration of the Indian cricket team, the captain and the cricket board. Sadly, no one can demand similar action against the brainless Indian cricket fan and the sadly sometimes equally grey-cells-deprived sports journalist…

 

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