Ranjona Banerji: Express on the top

24 Feb,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


Aah cricket! I can’t believe that I’m writing this but cricket made a difference to the news mix last week. We’ve been so full of politics for so long now and that includes the politics of sport. But the start of the Cricket World Cup and India’s two wins in the first stages meant that we had a break from manufactured outrage.


Of course there is no doubt that cricket fatigue will set in at some point and I’ll be grumbling here quite soon as this tournament goes on and on… There will be an endless questioning of Sachin Tendulkar and the endless squeaking of Boria Majumdar both on Headlines Today. There will be some needless (I cannot say gratuitous because no money = no appearance) film star presence because cricket is not glamorous enough in India as we all know. There will be outrage over every small fielding position. There will enormous anger that some other team actually dared to play well.


And not all the deities in the world can save Team India from the media’s wrath if things do not go the media’s way… There you have it. That’s the World Cup in three paragraphs!




Actually, it’s been a news-filled week and the Indian Express has been at the top of one of the biggest stories: what the media dubbed the “terror boat” from Pakistan. Since the story of the boat that blew itself up on the night of December 31 2014 broke in the first week of January, questions have been raised, not least by India’s intelligence agencies. The Indian Express was at the forefront, asking uncomfortable questions with uncomfortable stories and incisive opinion pieces.


Last week, they came up with a speech by a DIG of the Coast Guard where he claimed that he was in Gandhinagar when the boat was headed to the Porbandar coast and he had ordered that it be blown up (“We don’t want to serve them biryani”). There was hell to pay after that and denials and counter-accusations flew fast and thick between the Coast Guard, defence ministry, the government and the media, especially (obviously) television.


The Indian Express waited as the denials became stronger and then released a tape of the DIG’s speech. This led to maximum embarrassment.


However, fun as all this was, there are a couple of problems here. The first, amusing as it is for the media, is the “I was misquoted” excuse. The electronic age makes this excuse redundant. You can wiggle around saying you were misunderstood or quoted out of context. But even those have limited traction. If you are going to blab secrets or put your foot in your mouth, find a better explanation for your words before someone makes your words public.


The second problem is more serious. It is the way that every story falls so quickly by the wayside. The coast guard DIG’s statement is serious because, among other things, it points to a frightening lack of communication between our security agencies and implies the defence ministry lied to the nation especially on a subject as fraught with tension as our relationship with Pakistan.


But we have already forgotten about the story as we have jumped on to the next big one: The auction of Narendra Modi’s suit, the Budget session, the disappearance of Rahul Gandhi, Mohan Bhagwat’s comments on Mother Teresa or the information leaks and robberies from the petroleum ministry to petroleum companies. Some of these are not even that big but stories are judged on how they can be milked for attention and not for their intrinsic worth.


Ah well.


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