Ranjona Banerji: Should the media highlight or ignore the PM’s comments in Bangladesh?

09 Jun,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian for 20 years, stepped down at the end of May. In that time, newspaper – in keeping with its formidable reputation – has held politicians and governments to public scrutiny. In recent times, The Guardian has exposed the nexus between the media and politicians in the phone-hacking scandal and also carried Edward Snowden’s revelations about government snooping. Rusbridger considers The Guardian’s powerful presence in the digital space one of his triumphs. He steps down as editor but continues to stand up as an influential voice and an inspiration to all journalists. An evening spent listening to him at the Mumbai Press Club a couple of years ago was revelatory and educative as he shared his insights and the lessons he had learned in a charming and self-deprecatory manner.


The Guardian now has Katherine Viner as editor and Rusbridger heads the Scott Trust which runs the Guardian.


This is his farewell piece to readers:





The prime minister’s visit to Bangladesh was a success with the signing of some very important agreements between the two nations. Yes, it is true that much of the groundwork had been done by the previous government but it is also true that government is a continuous process.


So has the media failed in its duty by its coverage of the PM’s trip next door? First, there was blanket broadcasting by all news channels and constant bombarding on Twitter about every single prime ministerial activity down to the vegetarian meal he was served. The inner details of the agreement were left to newspaper columnists and to channels like Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV to discuss.


Our private TV channels got caught up in Narendra Modi’s needless remark about Sheikh Hasina, the Bangladesh PM, having zero tolerance for terrorism, “despite being a woman”. Or Modi’s observation that he or India and Bangladesh deserved a Nobel prize for the land border agreement.


Here’s the conundrum: If you ignore such comments, are you then airbrushing over the prime minister’s errors? Do these comments not deserve to be highlighted? But if you do discuss them, are you ignoring the larger picture and indulging in nit-picking?


The correct answer would be one supposes to focus on both but when it comes to today’s Bollywoodised lowest-common-denominator thinking, drama has to win over content. We go back to all the research that tells us that no one reads edit pages anyway.




Rahul Desai, the film reviewer who quit Mumbai Mirror after the newspaper changed his rating for a film based on popular demand or some such excuse, has written this excellent piece on the plight of the film reviewer in these market-driven times. It is a sad commentary on how hard it is to remain fair or free when everything around you has succumbed to PR and market pressure. It also shows the scant respect that many newsrooms or managements have for individual points of view.





And while on Mumbai Mirror, The Hindu pulled a fast one on the paper by putting a little ad promoting itself into the Mirror’s classified sections. It’s not often that Indian media makes jokes like this…

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