Ranjona Banerji: Breaking news culture leads to baseless journalism

15 May,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s attempt to intimidate the media with the threat of defamation cases has been foiled for now by the Supreme Court. The Delhi government decided it would take all criticism of itself by the media very seriously indeed and file defamation cases in case the criticism was unfair, uncalled for, prejudiced, biased, not nice and most importantly, “spoilt the government’s reputation. The apex court has however taken note of a PIL against this Delhi government order and stayed implementation until its next hearing.

 

Most of India’s politicians were probably hoping that Kejriwal would get away with this which might give them all one more stick with which to whack the pesky media. Still, as I understand it, anyone can accuse anyone else of libel, defamation and slander in India already so what was the purpose of this order anyway?

 

And with so many journalists in the Aam Aadmi Party, surely Kejriwal could have got better advice? The best way to put anyone’s back up is to threaten them and why do that to a media which has served you so well in the past? Many journalists measure their success by the number of legal notices they receive. So your threats might even seem like compliments.

 

Some gratuitous advice here: instead of a government order of this absurd sort, why not pass an order forcing media houses to issue gigantic apologies instead of teeny-weeny invisible ones after they lose cases?

 

Okay, I’m laughing.

 

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Congratulations to Sidharth Bhatia, Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editors, and Raghu Karnad, contributing editor, on the launch of thewire.in

 

This promises to be a high quality news site with both reports and opinions. The intention is to remain independent of those influences which lately have so corrupted journalism and where editors have become management lackeys or political stooges.

 

All power to thewire.in and here’s hoping for a grand future!

 

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TV was in an uproar about a policeman in Delhi who threw a brick at a woman driving a scooter. He asked for a bribe, she refused, he attacked her. Someone recorded the fight on their phone. There was outrage all around. How dare and so on. Policeman suspended. However, later another story unfolded. The woman was not wearing a helmet. She had two children on the scooter with her. She threw a stone at the policeman.

 

As happens all too often, this means that the story was aired without verification. This is precisely the reason why some of us in the media are sceptical of “citizen journalists”, bloggers masquerading as or being taken for journalists and “sting” operations. There is a certain rigour to journalism as it should be practised – and most often is – which amateurs are not aware of. There are also tiers in a newsroom to sift through stories and check on facts. I see on social media so many people who think that journalists do nothing, precisely because of such shoddy journalism.

 

The rush to be first on TV with “breaking news” has destroyed too many of those basics. The result is this kind of baseless, asinine, manufactured “outrage”. Take a bow, you guys.

 

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