Ranjona Banerji: Comments, abuse and the Grand Jury of Newshour

26 Aug,2016

By Ranjona Banerji


In his most recent column, The Hindu’s Readers’ Editor, AS Panneerselvan, thinks that the newspaper should rework its “digital engagement” with readers. In fact, what he has done is put in writing what many newsrooms know but do not know what to do about: most comments which appear below opinion pieces and articles on news websites are vicious and abusive. They contribute little to any intellectual discussion and having tried to belittle the original writer, they most often descend into personal name-calling between each other.


You might argue that long before trolls on Twitter became a “thing”, they were practising their skills on news websites and in fact all websites. A thread on Youtube below something as innocuous as a song for instance is no different. The psychology of anonymity giving you licence to insult can be examined by others. But as far as a discussion between readers and journalists goes, “Comments” have largely been a failure. Several publications worldwide have closed down their online Comments sections over the past two years says Panneerselvan.


This is a problem which Indian news websites also need to start looking at. Letters provide a better engagement with readers than comments says The Hindu’s Readers’ Editor. However, there is an inherent laziness in the reader these days which means that many find it easier to comment than to compose a cogent argument via email. And the flip side is that the print media in India has long been dismissive of readers’ views, since it means that print space will be used for editorial matter which cannot be easily monetised!


On a personal note, in most jobs I have held in a newsroom, I have handled readers’ letters and quality has definitely diminished. Panneerselvan has some ideas which are interesting:


Meanwhile, it is good news that Scroll.in has also appointed a Readers’ Editor. Here is what C Rammanohar Reddy plans to do:

One can only hope that all news organisations, in whatever format, understand the need for someone who will deal with readers’ complaints and issues in a less dismissive manner than has been done until now.




One has to commend Times Now for its investigative work in getting the taped conversations between Rahul Mukerjea and his father Peter Mukerjea and stepmother Indrani, after Sheena Bora disappeared. These conversations which have been playing on Times Now since yesterday seem to suggest that both Peter and Indrani tried to bamboozle Rahul into believing that Sheena had run off with someone else and that he should get on with his life. As it turns out, she was already dead by then.


So far so good. And then of course we went into Newshour and the normal nutty territory of the chief media justice of India Arnab Goswami and his jury of yes-people and chosen victims. Game of Thrones fans will understand when I say that it is unfortunate for Ramsay Bolton that he became dog food in the last season, because he could have learnt something from the Newshour.


Anyway, all of high society India is now on television deciding whether it was Indrani who is the main villain or Peter and Indrani or just Peter and so on. None of these detectives and home-grown psychologists presents the argument: “how dare you even suggest a mother can kill her child?” any more when it comes to Indrani Mukerjea. That is reserved for our other psycho-detectives on the Aarushi Talwar murder case.
I remain intrigued why people who are bound to disagree with Goswami even appear on his show. If I was a psycho-babbler I would say it was some form of extreme masochism.

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