Ranjona Banerji: Hail the Patriotic News Anchor!

27 Sep,2016

By Ranjona Banerji


How disappointing life must be for our so very patriotic TV news anchors and their “guests”, handlebar generals and all, who were clamouring for a war with Pakistan after the attack on the army base at Uri. The Prime Minister of India, who promised his followers strong and stern action against our troublesome neighbour before he was elected, decided that the way to beat Pakistan most effectively was to compete with it on who gets rid of poverty first.


But fear not. Our patriotic colleagues in the world of TV news are past masters at the art of shifting gear (not much of an art actually when anyone who drives a vehicle can do it, but perhaps not with so much shameless aplomb). Immediately we went from war talk to fulsome and lavish praise about how Narendra Modi was now a “world leader” and a “statesman”.


Those Patriotic TV Journalists with a little brain (this is a reference to AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, for those who are ill-read as well) may recall that they already called Modi all that and more when he invited Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif to his coronation, when Modi zipped around the world in 300 days in his first year as PM and when he dropped into Sharif’s birthday party in December last year. However, selective amnesia is useful and short-term memory loss is essential for TV news anchors, especially when you want to make some point, any point to stir the pot night after night on television.


Modi having now declared a war on poverty (shades of Indira Gandhi’s “garibi hatao”, anyone?), our TV anchors were left with their own problems. The next idea that came to them was “meetings”. These are secret things that happen in government and high places. So everyone informed us that Modi was going to have a “top level” and “secret” meeting about the Indus Valley Treaty – a water-sharing deal between India and Pakistan which was worked effectively since 1960.


It’s quite remarkable how many ways you can find to say, “The prime minister is going to hold a secret and top level meeting” (see how I switched those words around?), but they managed it.


Since then the meeting has been held but I don’t know what happened. It was secret.




Meanwhile, the newspapers have quite cogently explained the Indus water agreement and how it works, for those interested. The upshot seems to be that the best course for India would be to use water which it is allowed to but has not done so far. The best course apparently is not to stop water to Pakistan. But as we all know, newspapers are nowhere near Patriotic enough.




External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj gave Pakistan a good answer at the United Nations General Assembly. Sadly for her however she will not be hailed forever as a world leader or a statesman by our Patriots because we can’t have so many of them from the same government in the Modi era.




There was an interesting discussion on Rajya Sabha TV the other day, on the way the problems with television news brought up the fascinating point of calling a discussion “live” when the same guest appears at the same time on another show wearing different clothes. Everyone laughed, no one had an answer.




Happy Birthday to Google! The search engine celebrates its 18th birthday today. There can be no doubt that Google revolutionised the way we work and for journalists at least, there is no better friend! If only TV people used it more often to find synonyms for “secret” and “top level”, no?


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