Lookback 2016: Donald Trump or Demonetisation…

27 Dec,2016

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Donald Trump or Demonetisation: Those are your choices for the news events of the year. As far as Donald Trump for US President is concerned, almost no one took his bid seriously, perhaps least of all Donald Trump himself. Even though he vanquished fellow Republicans one by one to win the nomination, not the Republicans, not the media, not Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, not the pollsters, not anyone it seems except the Alt Right and Breitbart News believed in him.

 

And, as conspiracy theorists and the CIA now states, Russian President Vladmir Putin as well. It is nothing short of horrifying for the media when they get something so large and important so very wrong. It means that instead of  keeping their ears to the ground or at least identifying which part of the ground was significant, most media outlets let their personal feelings affect their judgment. This is where we reach a tricky area of “right and wrong” and letting that as a lever to steer the news.

 

However, how does one avoid that lever? Is it possible for anyone to be that objective? Trump in many ways appeared to be so “wrong”, in everything he said, in the hatred that his followers spread around, in the bigotry and ignorance that he unleashed across society and made them both seem like virtues.

 

An iconic TIME Magazine cover from the year, before the results, was, on a black background, a caricature of Trump’s face in characteristic shades of orange and yellow collapsing like a slab of butter on a hot summer’s day. “Meltdown” said the headline. The articles within were about Trump’s outrageous statements, his lack of preparation, his supposed lack of understanding of the gravitas of the job – everything in fact that made the world horrified when he won the election. TIME later made him “Person of the Year”.

 

But that is one side of this fascinating story. The other side was the underlying assaults on Hillary Clinton, by social and digital media. Just when her poll numbers were high and running ahead, her campaign reeled under various leaks from her email accounts when she was secretary of state in the first Obama administration. Some leaks were from Wikileaks, others were by Russian hackers.

 

If Trump faced the sceptical disdain of mainstream media, Clinton faced the growing powers of the other media – digital, social, Alt-Right. In Trump’s case, the mainstream media can be accused of many things.

 

But breaking accepted social bounds was not one of them. Despite repeated assurances of Clinton’s lack of culpability by the FBI, despite the CIA finding evidence of Russia’s role in Clinton’s loss, Clinton did lose. And Clinton’s case underlines once again why the internet is dismissed only at your own peril, especially by the media.

 

And that perhaps is why America got the president it deserved, even if almost no one wanted him!

 

**

 

In India, I can offer you two changes in the media, one of which can be described as seismic.

 

The Narendra Modi government’s demonetisation gambit slightly shifted the narrative for television news. From November 8 to December 27, we have seen quite a few sections of the media wake up and smell the stench of bogus excuses and justifications by the government and its minions after this catastrophic imposition on the Indian public.

 

This column has written extensively on this so I feel I don’t need to go much further as far as the disconnect between print/web and television journalism on demonetisation and even more within television itself with primetime debate shows completely contradicting daytime coverage on their own channels.

 

It shows a remarkable lack of cohesion and indeed an almost wilful reluctance on the part of senior TV journalists to accept what their own ground reporting tells them. CNN News 18 ran a series of the effects of demonetisation in industries across Punjab, for instance. Note however how most TV debates will be on Rahul Gandhi/Arvind Kejriwal’s statements and not on putting the government on the spot for the chaos it has caused. How many head honchos of India’s many banks, public and private, have you seen on prime time debates discussing the effects of monetisation?

 

Social media has also done a turn, post-demonetisation. For the first time, since his coronation in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become the butt of jokes, from India’s comics to anonymous meme and GIF creators, to Whatsapp forwarders and innumerable tweets and Facebook posts. In some sense, reality and balance are trying to make their presence felt in the digital space.

 

**

 

Yet, without being facetious, the most cataclysmic media event of the year has undoubtedly been the departure of Arnab Goswami from Times Now. For many years now, he set the tone for his fellow TV anchors and for some susceptible print and web journalists. I cannot remember any journalist who has been so talked about. The Silence Fell in mid-November. Although various panel regulars still call every other anchor “Orno”, Goswami’s stentorian tones and his masterly hectoring have gone for now.

 

His brand of Not Journalism As we Understand It will return it is said on his new channel “The Republic”. The Republic however continues much as his former channel seems forlorn and headless.

 

Are you holding your breath into the New Year?

 

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