Ranjona Banerji: Insensitive and ultra-nationalistic sections taint Indian media

05 May,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The jingoistic tone of some of the Indian media’s coverage of the Nepal earthquake which we had discussed last week backfired very badly on both the media and the country. Over the weekend, the hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia started trending on Twitter. Conspiracy theorists and especially the involvement of Roswell aliens aside, it appeared to be the people of Nepal who had started this trend. The insensitivity of some Indian reporters and their ultra-nationalist tone was seen as objectionable and Twitter was used as a form of revenge.

 

This was perhaps the worst manifestation of the media habit of seeing everything only through Indian eyes. Although I often blame TV news for many transgressions, this India-centric obsession can be fairly and squarely laid at the feet of the Times of India. And where TOI leads, most Indian newspapers scramble to copy and follow— no matter how much posturing they do to the contrary. Thus we have national celebrations when a person of Indian origin, albeit with different citizenship, wins a nursery school finger-painting competition in an obscure American town. The people of Nepal can then hardly blame India for what has now become a default position for the Indian media. We are programmed this way.

 

We now know, 10 days after the quake, teams from 34 nations were working at search, rescue and relief efforts. So far, the Indian media informed us only about India. Although there are journalists who do good work, this sort of overall attitude taints all of us.

 

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It is intriguing, at the very least, to watch Headlines Today in action. Rahul Kanwal and Gaurav Sawant remain the biggest cheerleaders for the Government of India and the ruling political party. Their super-patriotic prancing during India’s rescue efforts in Nepal was largely responsible for much of the anger.

 

Then you have Karan Thapar and his show on the channel. His interview with author, former journalist and former minister in the AB Vajpayee government Arun Shourie was a coup of sorts. Shourie, who is part of the BJP, was critical, in very careful language and measured tones, of the Narendra Modi government and the way the party is being run by Amit Shah. He included Union finance minister Arun Jaitley in his list of the triumvirate running the party.

 

Thapar, as ever, was sharp and to the point with Shourie. On a panel discussion on Monday, he had journalists, columnists and a BJP spokesperson discuss the response to his interview with Shourie and its possible aftermath. Such a contrast to the earnest jingoism of the channels prize anchors as well as the general yelling matches that pass for debate in our country.

 

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The Aam Aadmi Party has, unfortunately, since it came to power in the state of Delhi spent almost as much time dealing with internal conflagrations and upheavals than it has with governing. The latest controversy over allegations of the love life of prominent AAP leader Kumar Vishwas has only added salt to an already injured party. Just after the dust of the departure of founder members Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan settled, there were stories that Kejriwal’s law minister Jitender Singh Tomar had a fake law degree. Like all of today’s politicians, Kejriwal decided the media was to blame and announced that the media had “accepted a supari” to finish off AAP.

 

In Mumbai gangster parlance, a supari means hiring a hitman. It is undoubtedly true that AAP gets more media coverage than its due. Compare Kejriwal to, say, Mayawati for instance of whom you hardly hear a squeak in the English language media. Or K Chandrashekhar Rao, CM of Telengana, who rarely makes it to the national media. Kejriwal on the other hand is everywhere, even when he’s away on a retreat. For the AAP therefore the media has been both friend and foe. One trick to get the media off your back, which AAP might follow, is stop calling press conferences every 10 minutes. And definitely stop conducting sting operations on yourselves…

 

On the subject, Nidhi Razdan’s Left Right and Centre on NDTV had a balanced discussion on the media’s role in AAP’s rise and in general, including Nepal. For some odd reason though, an hour later, NDTV then had Barkha Dutt discussing the same subject with another set of people. Strange.

 

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