Ranjona Banerji: Thankfully, the national media woke up to Chennai’s plight in December

04 Dec,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


Tamil Nadu has been battered by rain for most of November. The city of Chennai has been particularly ravaged. Close to 150 people died from rain-related crises in November. But for the national media, especially television, all we saw was raging and fury over why Delhi chief minister Arvind Kerjiwal hugged former Bihar chief minister Lalu Yadav and how dare actor Aamir Khan’s wife express an opinion.


It is unfair to claim this was just a north-south divide that we have seen in the media for decades. There was something more on display here. It was that sort of hysterical mindless race to find the subjects that could generate the most sound and fury that seems to have become the rule these days. It also demonstrated an obsession with politics and playing upon the political divide. When people’s lives and homes are being destroyed by unprecedented rain, you cannot really have a good noisy debate of Sambit Patra versus Sanjay Jha.


One can grant them that many other things were happening. Paris suffered one more terrorist attack. The prime minister was travelling and meeting his overseas fan clubs. The climate was visiting the global stage once more. Election results had to be discussed threadbare. Artists and intellectuals continued to express distress. Rain, no matter how much damage it caused, was obviously not exciting enough.


Thankfully, the terrible surge in rainfall in Tamil Nadu in December suddenly got the media’s attention. Newspapers had it on their front pages and news channels gave us 24 hour coverage. All of them were relatively sober in their coverage and until Thursday night had not descended into a political blame game. Massive efforts were made to coordinate with rescue services and to highlight the efforts being made by voluntary organisations and concerned citizens to help affected people in any way possible.


Full marks must be given to all those reporters and camerapersons who braved rain and flood water to bring us their stories. It is they who are the backbone of this celebrity-driven TV media we are now surrounded by. TV has changed the dynamics of a newsroom to the extent that viewers cannot see beyond the anchors and young wannabe journalists only aim for that perceived fame and glory without realising background work that goes into making a story a success. Yeah, end of lecture and please watch Network (the film) if you haven’t already.


But you have to feel for newsrooms here, even when it comes to getting politicians to comment on just about everything. We in India appear to have a shortage of experts who are well-known enough or articulate or can be easily located. It sounds odd to write this but it is something experienced firsthand when I was part of several edit page teams. We have partitioned our lives in such strange ways that academia is often aloof and also unwilling to communicate in a manner than non-experts will understand.


Especially now when it comes to the environment and climate change and technology, we need public intellectuals to come forward and explain and share. If they don’t, we’re going to be stuck with Sambit Patra holding forth on everything…




December 1 was World Aids Day. There was cursory coverage in most newspapers and the horror story is that India, having done so well, is now back to the edge of disaster in controlling HIV/Aids, government funding having been cut and foreign funding having dried up. The best coverage of this impending horror came from the comedy group AIB, on their new very watchable show on Star World. Ya I know, but really. Go figure.


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