Ranjona Banerji: Battle of the Boat

06 Jan,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The Indian media is now involved in the battle of the boat. Some media outlets firmly believe the press release from the Ministry of Defence stating that the Coast Guard had intercepted and/or chased a boat full of terrorists from Pakistan heading to Porbander. Said boat then blew itself up.

 

Other media outlets have been asking questions, not least because various Indian intelligence agencies have questioned this MoD press release, which came a few days after the event. The Indian Express carried an excellent well-argued front page story by Praveen Swami, certainly the foremost journalist when it comes to Intelligence Bureau stories, poking holes in the MoD release. Some media journalists wanted to know why the Ministry of External Affairs had not sent an official complaint to Pakistan yet and it was only the Defence Ministry which had issued a press release.

 

Some journalists found indications that the boat could have been a smuggling vessel or a fishing vessel and may not have blown itself up as a suicide mission to heaven so much as it caught fire. Anyone who has been a journalist should know that all government agencies leak and that is where information comes from. Instead, we have fallen into the stupidest us versus them rut possible.

 

So now the division is clear. Anyone who has questions about the boat is a traitor and an agent of the Congress party and anyone who swallows every MoD press release hook line and sinker like the Gospel truth is an uber-patriot. India Uber Alles and bring on the storm troopers, brown shirts, nights of the long knives, young pioneers, Kristallnacht, what you will.

 

Is this what we’ve come to? A democracy where journalists cannot ask questions?

 

**

 

Have started reading Vinod Mehta’s Editor Unplugged, his sequel to Lucknow Boy. As can be expected, the writing style is breezy, self-deprecating and enjoyable. As with Lucknow Boy, there’s a lot of pride in the journalistic achievements of Outlook magazine and even more about the many journalists he has mentored.

 

I cannot comment further without reading further, and this is not a book review. But this is a comment on the sort of mild hysteria that the book earned from fellow and former journalists soon after it was released. Most of these comments came from people either not born or still being fed pap by their mammas, pappas and ayahs when Mehta started working in journalism, in 1974.

 

The objections were to throwaway paragraphs in parenthesis about Tarun Tejpal, the now discredited former editor of Tehelka. Tejpal is out on bail having been charged with rape in a very public incident. I feel I have to make it clear that unlike many of those who had hissy fits on social media about what Mehta has written, I have made my own distaste and disgust for Tejpal’s actions very clear in commissioned articles for print and for websites. I have not hidden behind a veil of privacy on either Facebook or Twitter in my condemnation.

 

In spite of that, I found little offensive in Mehta’s observations. He writes about his firsthand knowledge of Tejpal and that is his prerogative.  Mehta admires Tejpal the journalist and that is also his prerogative. He sounds a little naive in this regard I must admit especially when it comes to Tejpal’s reputation with young women but that is hardly a hanging offence. The only problem seems to be a quote which he has attributed to writer William Dalrymple which Dalrymple denies.

 

But I remain amazed at the extent of the judgmental stupidity of some of my fellow journalists, including some I have worked with and some who have left the profession. They demonstrate on social media at least a complete ignorance about the way the system operates. It reflects, as I have said in these columns before, either bitter frustration for having left the profession and the perks it offers you or similar anger about not having a voice within their own newsrooms or the media outlet they work for. However, demonstrating their immense disingenuous sense of logic and patently bogus air of outraged innocence on social media cannot possibly help their respective causes, if what they want is fame and acknowledgment within the fraternity.

 

Did I just say that? After all, in this climate, extreme stupidity in journalists seems to be in high demand. Carry on guys in that case. Maybe someone will listen and give you that column or that TV appearance you so seem to crave. What posterity will say is another matter…

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Battle of the Boat”

  1. ashok759 says:

    Without getting into the specifics of this particular boat incident, there are several occasions when decisions pertaining to national security have to be made virtually in real time, with limited, sometimes even misleading or false information. If our security establishment, acting in good faith, occasionally makes an error, even tragic, of judgment, we should go with them. 2. It now appears that the two older killers of the Paris tragedy were being monitored by the security agencies. With the benefit of hindsight, encounter kar dete to kya galat tha ? We live in a rule of law society but many who wish us real harm observe no rules or restraint.

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