Ranjona Banerji: Is every journalist asking probing questions anti-national?

21 Oct,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ravish Kumar of NDTV, certainly one of India’s most brave and forthright television journalists, has given a visceral and honest interview to the website scroll.in on the state of the nation. He has discussed the Bihar elections, the rivers of hate running through India, the violence and the laziness of the Indian liberal. The liberal, all too often, he contends is comfortable in its fortress away from the hoi polloi, sometimes abroad, commentating from afar. Too many he feel even cosy up to the environment. Not enough speak out to stop the hatred and viciousness.

 

But for this column and to my mind, it was Ravish Kumar’s comments on the media which are the most pertinent.

 

This is what he says about the atmosphere today:

“For decades, journalists have asked uncomfortable questions. They have either been answered with a smile or not at all. But it’s only recently that every journalist asking a probing question has been labelled as presstitute or anti-national. So let’s make a rule then, let journalists ask only good questions and print only nice answers – because it seems that is what the government wants.

 

Many journalists who have slogged all their lives with a pittance as salary are being branded as traitors and dalals. While those who really have done such stuff are walking with their heads high. Why?”

 

I would have liked to hear more of his views on the journalists who “are walking with their heads high”, as he puts it. Because these are the journalists who are giving a bad name to the rest. They are bigger opportunists than the “liberals” that he attacks, because journalists have signed a special covenant. To want to cosy up to the establishment is the death of journalism, no matter who the establishment is. This includes every award, every flat by special quota, every special invitation, every phone call that does not amount to a story. As journalists, our personal lives are precarious and everything can be fodder to the greater cause.

 

It is those journalists who do not support the Hindutva cause who get the most public flak for being anti-national, “presstitutes”, “newstraders” and so on, all names used by the rightwing and sometimes important members of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Ravish Kumar reminds us that it is journalists who reported on all the scams of the UPA government, the same journalists who get called these names.

 

But the problem runs deeper than that. Any media watcher (I do not mean rightwing websites like mediacrooks and so on which are clearly sponsored by an agenda) can see a disturbing shift in senior journalists, where criticism of the current dispensation is taken personally. This is not about journalists who are by inclination rightwing themselves. This is about those journalists who want to be part of the establishment to stoke their own sense of importance. The damage that they do to the media’s primary responsibility is incalculable.

 

Veteran journalists who have become commentators and TV Talking Heads have limited leverage – even when (or especially when) they join a party like MJ Akbar or Minhaz Merchant. But there are many editors of publications, who are not TV regulars or columnists and therefore beyond public knowledge who wield huge powers and use them increasingly without responsibility. They also seem to carry an incredible pettiness within which reflects in their public comments.

 

The situation is dire and even worse than Ravish Kumar’s interview points out. In 30 years, I have not seen journalists crawling like this when they have not even been asked to bend, to paraphrase LK Advani’s classic comment on the media during the Emergency. And I include the media division between the Rightwing and the Rest that happened during the Ramjanmabhoomi Movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s culminating in the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

 

We live in bad times as far as the media in India is concerned.

 

Ravish Kumar’s interview:

http://scroll.in/article/762857/the-ravish-kumar-interview-our-lazy-liberal-class-was-always-opportunistic

 

**

 

Having said that, some better news. For over a year now I have criticised The Week That Wasn’t, the news satire show on CNN-IBN for going easy on the BJP and Narendra Modi. This was particularly evident in the run-up to the general elections and just after the government was sworn in.

 

However, I now revise my view. The last episode of TWTW, where Kunal Vijaykar did a masterful impersonation of Modi giving an election speech in Bihar was once of the funniest I have ever seen!

 

I salute you guys, too good!

 

**

 

And then another thought occurs to one: have the new owners of Network 18 changed their policy re: this government? Hmmm.

 

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