Ranjona Banerji: Can we be more circumspect please?

17 Nov,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


No sooner had the terrible attack on Paris happened than the faultlines inherent in 24 hour news television exposed themselves. People barely had time to register what had happened, when the panel discussions started on the “why” and the “who”. Obviously the “who” and “why” are vital but the first focus has to be on “what”. Journalists and experts can surely hold their horses for a few hours as facts emerge before they start yelling at each other?


There are other stories yet to be done, vital news to be covered. Like the facts on the ground, details of each site of attack, the extent of suffering and damage, the official and personal response to the attacks, the human stories are all waiting to be told. For the viewer to be faced with analysis on a dynamic situation is both confusing and unnecessary.


Unfortunately, almost all 24 hour news channels, national and international, succumbed to the urge to try and solve the crime before the facts of the crime were fully known. Indian news channels had even less business starting with analysis than others given their thin presence in Paris but CNN and BBC World were no better.


Sadly, it is 24 hour news television that has the edge of all forms of journalism in events like these because it is not static. Twitter can be faster with the news at it happens, but it is still static. You have to engage two steps further to get to a picture or a video and so also with newspaper or journal websites. TV is still our best way of getting news during an event like this. But if TV decides to limit itself to a studio pontificating with one or two experts and no one has a clue as to what’s actually going on, then everyone is short-changed.


Given the debacle of the Bihar exit poll and election results just a few days ago, one expected TV news to be a bit more circumspect. But no such luck.




Of the discussions held in the evening of November 14 here in India, NDTV carried a sober, insightful and informative discussion with a range of experts on the Levant and ISIS and geopolitics, moderated by Sreenivasan Jain. Because there were no politicians present, the discussion stayed on course and the viewer came away with the feeling that he or she was better informed at the end of it. Such discussions are however extremely rare on Indian news television. The next day, we were back to the BJP and Congress yelling blue murder at each other, although neither party knew anything at all about the Paris attacks. Newspapers as even became the better bet for analysis, information, observation and expertise.




Just before these terrible attacks of course we in India were treated to quite another kind of journalism which has become all too common in India: the reporter as a cheerleader.


There was a time when international trips by Indian prime ministers meant that he or she was accompanied by seasoned and experienced journalists. They reported on the talks held and deals struck and the strategic, national and international impact. With the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, however we see young, callow and star-struck journalists who would be better suited to covering glamour and film events.


The basis of Modi’s visit appeared to be, if you watched television, what Indian immigrants to the UK thought of him and why which singer was singing whatever song and the decorations at Wembley stadium, an extravaganza organised by Indian immigrants. Whatever other relevant and significant details there may have been about Modi’s visit to the UK were lost, ignored, deemed insignificant compared to what he ate with the queen of England.


This included the massive protests against Modi in the United Kingdom. If it wasn’t for social media, you would have barely known that there were any.


And when the Paris attacks happened, the rest of Modi’s trip was easily forgotten. Except for this remarkable story from PTI about where Modi’s official aeroplane was parked in Turkey. I have no further comment on this story except to say that we now need to start a new journal in India called “Parking News”.





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