Ranjona Banerji: This “selfie” craze only takes this perversion of journalism integrity to a newer level of nuttiness

01 Dec,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


The spectacle of journalists crowding Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his “Diwali Milan” or meeting with journalists in the national capital on November 28 was one of the most unedifying of recent times. Journalists looked like fanboys and fangirls as they mobbed the prime minister in order to get a “selfie” with him. It happened last year too but we knew that after these so-called journalists posted their selfies with the PM and other ministers. This year round, we saw the melee for ourselves. And so did everyone else.


I write “so-called” journalists and I can see bristles rising. I had an interesting discussion with a young TV journalist on Twitter. He felt there was nothing wrong with taking selfies with famous people as long as it didn’t interfere with your work. And further, that you should be judged on your work and not on your fan tendencies.


Is he right? Am I being too much of a stickler here? It is common sense that a journalist has distance himself or herself from the people and events that are being covered. We have all seen too many colleagues who have strayed from that path with most unfortunate consequences. We are not friends with the people we interview, write about, observe. We may be friendly, they may be friendly. But unless we are aloof, we fail our readers and viewers. This rule is the same regardless of whether you’re a political or a glamour journalist. You become too close, too awe-struck, too star-struck and you lose the ability to criticise or be sceptical. You become the event rather than the observer.


This “selfie” craze only takes this perversion of journalism integrity to a newer level of nuttiness. It is not that it has not existed before. We have all known colleagues who were too close to politicians and political parties or business houses or gangsters or film stars. We have all known journalists who had more cars than they should have or took free flats from quotas in return for favourable stories or had shares in companies they shouldn’t have. Some paid the price and lost their jobs. Others were kept on by managements who felt that they could leverage this closeness for their business interests. It was wrong then, it is wrong now.


Some years ago, the well-known journalist and author Katherine Boo had told me that this closeness, this loss of journalistic distance is why she avoided “source” journalism and found that it was better to get as much information as possible through “Freedom of information” acts like the RTI. This demonstrates a level of journalistic ethics which we rarely see and even less rarely applaud. Yet it is much-needed – this finely tuned awareness that you have to practise your craft without being compromised.


Just how much bad journalism was on display during this “selfie” craze is made clear by this piece by Mayank Mishra who was present at the prime minister’s event. He writes in the Business Standard: “The PM stayed at the venue for nearly 45 minutes. It does not happen often that we get a chance to interact with the PM. But not a single question was asked. We did not get to know the PM’s perspective on important issues of the day. Isn’t it a huge loss of opportunity? Will the selfie brigade please explain?”

My answer to the young man on Twitter is simple. There is nothing wrong, as a journalist, if you forget your dignity to get a good story or a god quote. But there is everything wrong if we forget that this job is not about our personal collection of experiences. It is about the reader and the viewer. And what did the reader or viewer gain from this “selfie” exhibition except a perfectly justified sense of disgust for our profession?


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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: This “selfie” craze only takes this perversion of journalism integrity to a newer level of nuttiness”

  1. Ranjona says:

    Get a life, Ranjona. Your Modi hatred has discredited you already. You call yourself a journalist? Shame on you. If they had taken selfie with Rahul Gandhi, it’s fine. Right?