Ranjona Banerji: Is this journalism?

30 Sep,2016

By Ranjona Banerji


There is a “small, irrelevant” group of people, declared India’s star TV news anchor Arnab Goswami last night, who insist on talking peace with Pakistan and are against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The implication is clear: this small, irrelevant group of people – presumably those who have questions about the Indian Army’s “surgical strikes” on terror camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir – are traitors, anti-nationals, anti Armed Forces and so on.


Since one major swathe of TV journalism – not just Goswami, although he is leader of the pack, sorry all you wannabe pretenders – has moved as far away from journalism as possible, is there any use in pointing out that the AFSPA has nothing to with these surgical strikes? The Armed Forces exist to protect India and Indian territory from hostile attacks by foreign nations. But AFSPA’s provisions have been used to cover up abuses committed against Indian citizens. Should no one speak up – small and irrelevant though this group may be – for the women in the North East who allege they have been raped by Armed Forces and security personnel?


Irom Sharmila of Manipur was on continuous fast for 16 years, until she ended it this year, trying to pressure the authorities to repeal the AFSPA and get justice for victims of human rights abuses. To many people – not just in Manipur but in the world — she is a hero and this is not by any means a “small, irrelevant group”. In any case, the joy of a democracy is that even a “small, irrelevant” group is allowed to have a voice.


Patriotism and nationalism are fine qualities. But here’s the thing: The Armed Forced are made up of human beings. Some of those human beings can and will make mistakes, will abuse their power, will overstep the line, will cover up for the behaviour of others, will lie about their age, will become spies, will be involved in shady deals. This is human nature. It may be patriotic to respect the Armed Forces. But it is not patriotic to worship anyone when you are a journalist in a democracy. If I was a TV journalist, would I declare that the court which convicted former army major general Anand Kumar Kapur for disproportionate assets “anti-national”? Perhaps I would, because showmanship, specious logic and spurious home work are the hallmarks of some TV news anchors.


What is the job of a journalist at time like this? From the time that the US made “embedded” journalists some sort of a medal-winning performance during the George W Bush Gulf War, militaries have used the opportunity to use the media to block all criticism. India now has a whole herd of TV journalists who see the Kargil war as the ultimate statement of patriotism and build their reputations on that. The cost of war itself they are oblivious too – although if they saw what was happening in Syria right now for instance, they may get some clue.


To answer my own question, the job of a journalist at any time is to collect facts and ask questions. This job remains the same whether you are asking film stars what she or he had for lunch or asking a government spokesperson about any claims made by his or her government. Being a jingoistic cheerleader – even if you belong to a large and relevant group – is not journalism.


So therefore, after India’s surgical strikes on terror camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, you give your viewers or readers whatever facts you have been able to gather about what happened and analysis of what this means. The rest is personal aggrandisement. The rest is looking for handouts. The rest is an ego trip. And the rest is whatever I say is right and how dare any small or irrelevant group disagree with me.


By the way, I may be small and irrelevant, but this is my column! So shoot me!


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