Ranjona Banerji: Unbalanced coverage of demonetisation continues on TV… and here’s Arnab!

20 Dec,2016

By Ranjona Banerji

 

What is balanced coverage? In spite of all the problems around the Central government’s demonetisation exercise, for some TV editors or executive producers or whatever they call themselves, “balance” means ignoring the 50 people complaining about their currency problems and looking for the one person in a queue outside a bank who sings the prime minister’s praises.

 

This way, with one for and one against, they apparently think – I am extrapolating here because I have no way how they think if they think at all – that they have achieved “balance”. In fact, what they have achieved is skewed coverage and they have also completely misrepresented to their viewers what objective coverage means. If 50 people in a queue are unhappy and one is happy, then that is what you need to present to your viewership.

 

We remain, since November 8 2016, stuck in this same impossible, awful situation placed upon the nation by demonetisation. I use these words which sound not balanced and definitely biased because when 100 people at least have died as a result of a government action, when thousands have been rendered jobless, when industries have shut down, when there is anxiety and apprehension everywhere, when corruption and scams continue, then it is the media’s job to represent all that.

 

And yet, we see for ourselves day after day the continuation of the insistent disconnect between the print/digital and the electronic media. There is for instance, what TV news reports through the day, which is more or less what newspapers report – people unhappy, industries collapsing and new and innovative ways to circumvent the system and what happens at night.

 

By the time we reach the evening, reality is turned on its head. Suddenly reporting becomes about projection and that same rigmarole of one ruling party one opposition. The guests switch around a bit and those who were popular for one month on every single channel, often at the same time, are now replaced by another lot. They almost all say the same things. And instead of examining the very serious issue of demonetisation and the role of the government and of government agencies in concept and implementation, there is an attempt to shift the onus on to the opposition.

 

It is a neat trick and it may even fool all of the people most of the time, but it is not journalism. If you are not questioning the government in power then you are a submissive not a subversive. And any journalist worth his or her salt needs to have a bit of a subversive in them.

 

You might think this is a bit rich coming from a columnist but in any newspaper or website, opinion is carefully separated from reporting and investigations. In news television, this separation apparently goes against the grain. But nor do we have anchors coming clean about their own opinions when on air. They remain stuck in a sort of “I must pretend to be objective and that means supporting the government” mode. Whether they do this for the current government or the last or any other, vital aspects of being a journalist are lost.

 

**

 

Meanwhile, those of the nation who want to know where star anchor without a channel Arnab Goswami will land next, the answer is The Republic. This is a channel of his own making and promises to be part of the “independent media” (his words, not mine). Rumours say this news channel will be partly funded by Mohandas Pai and Rajeev Chandrashekhar. Those with illusions about what “independent media” means need only look up both Pai and Chandraskehar on the internet.

 

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