Ranjona Banerji: TV journalism touches a new low

22 Jul,2016

By Ranjona Banerj


Several opinion pieces in newspapers over the past few days have pointed fingers at the media for vitiating the atmosphere in Kashmir and for alienating young people in the state. This is what IAS officer Shah Faesel had to say in The Indian Express, “What made the current round of commercial savagery by a few news channels even more tragic was that they continued to promote falsehoods, dividing people, creating hatred, completely disregarding the values of democracy and secularism, even when people were dying and the government was trying hard to calm down people’s passions. It did not stop even after appeals were made to de-escalate. This brazenness to market TRPs as national interest and do business over the dead bodies of young men was the worst aspect of these loud newsrooms…


“In Kashmir, people often confuse the outrageous editorial policy of the national media with the oppressive state policy. When Kashmiri representatives are bullied in TV debates, their aspirations ridiculed, their grievances shouted down, the symbols of Kashmiri pride insulted, or when non-issues are given precedence over the killing of the innocents, when military bravado is encouraged over civilian agony, when positive initiatives of the state government are overlooked, and truth is not shown at all, and most importantly, when cows are made to feel more important than the Kashmiri people, the frustration and anger will, expectedly, be directed against India. Every hour of prime time TV news aggression pushes Kashmir a mile westward from India.”


And there’s this: “I have no hesitation in saying that Zee News, Times Now, NewsX and Aaj Tak are at the vanguard of a movement that will take India from a dialogical civilisation to a dumb, illogical civilisation.”


The same message but with a different take comes from Hilal Mir, a senior journalist in Kashmir. He writes, also in The Indian Express: “By and large, the local media do not balance truth with falsehood or flaunt “nuanced reportage” by equating the savagery of pellet ammunition on thousands of people with the stone-inflicted injuries of 15 troopers. Unlike Indian media channels, they question whether an Indian soldier has the right to be in Kashmir in the first place. They are more answerable to the local people than an air-dropped “war correspondent” from New Delhi who wears a cricket helmet and embeds himself with troopers in a bullet-proof vehicle, roams around in the curfewed city and acts like he is covering the war in Syria. Last time, he reported from here was during the Kargil war.”


The reference seems to be to Gaurav Sawant of India Today TV, certainly one of our more “patriotic” TV journalists in a category absolutely bristling with fervent nationalistic one-upmanship.


And here is Abhishek Saha, a journalist with the Hindustan Times, in an opinion piece titled ‘Why Kashmiris hate the “Indian media”’: “The Kashmir coverage – often looking at things only from the perspective of the Indian State and avoiding the widespread secessionist sentiments or allegations of human rights excesses by security forces – by some television channels does not go down well with the local populace…”


It is difficult for a journalist to agree with everything Shah Faesel says, although one can understand his anger. To suggest that the media be controlled, no matter how good your intentions, is to walk into very treacherous territory. However, there is no getting around the fact that TV journalism – and especially the news channels he names – have stretched and challenged all definitions of journalism. Certainly what goes on every night on news television under the term “debate” is not journalism by any stretch of the imagination. I will not bandy the term “TRP” as easily as it is done by the general public because television rating points are just one of the mechanisms to judge how well you are doing. The bigger problem appears to be that some TV journalists believe that they are right and they have right on their side by kowtowing to the official position. But they have also abdicated good sense and responsibility and have lost all sense of consequence.


There are some clear positions that some TV anchors take which makes them suspect as journalists: 1, to become spokespersons for the army and security agencies, 2, to only speak for the middle classes, 3, to ignore the worst transgressions of the ruling party and concentrate only on the opposition parties, 4, to behave like party spokespersons. This list can be endless leading one to conclude that these are not journalists.


Gagging or stopping the media is unacceptable. But TV journalism in India has reached a very low level and one that is becoming dangerous, as we can see. Journalists are not going to go out and fight wars. But some seem hell-bent on starting them.


The trivialisation argument though cannot be reiterated often enough. With Kashmir still in turmoil and Dalits rising in anger in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and across the nation, is the fact that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had a shut-eye in Parliament of any consequence except for jokes on Twitter?


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal.


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