Ranjona Banerji: In the US, the press is calling Trump’s bluff. In India?

24 Jan,2017

By Ranjona Banerji


It took one day of Donald Trump’s presidency for him and the American press to get involved in a stand-off. The writing was on the wall throughout Trump’s campaign. But to declare a “running war” with the media is extreme, even if not unexpected.


Echoing his boss, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer summoned the Washington press corps to the White House and launched into a diatribe against the media. The media has not taken it kindly and has slammed Spicer for his attitude as well as for his lies.


The lies themselves are also about what is the great gamechanger in a post-truth world – fantasy over reality and the trivial over the important. Trump is upset because he didn’t get the biggest crowds ever at his inauguration or, in his world, the fact that the press reported that he got less crowds than Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Spicer claimed that Trump got the biggest crowd ever, a claim that is easily disproved and that journalists have called a lie, a falsehood and other synonyms.


Trump’s own advisers have a better name for their version of the world: alternative facts. That is a truly admirable phrase in its idiotic gumption and is certainly a forerunner of what is to come in abundance with from this White House.


The American press is not having any of it. They will not boycott the White House press briefings. But they will pay greater attention to what the White House and Trump’s aides say. They will set up investigative teams to examine all claims made by the government. They will explain to their readers, viewers and listeners the difference between facts and lies masquerading as “alternative facts”. They will do their jobs as journalists, even if it upsets the powers that be.


But have you missed any of the irony? Have you noticed how the American press are responding to a newly elected president? Have you paid attention to the fact that they are calling Trump and his team out for lies that they have told? Do I need to point out that Donald Trump won an election and became President of the United States?


And now try and think back for a moment on how the Indian media responded to Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister of India. Inspite of limited or no access, inspite of government departments being barred from open communication with the press, inspite of no press conferences from the Prime Minister, the Indian media, especially television news, remains supplicant and blind to the government’s faults. In many cases, some news anchors have confused themselves with government PR persons and spokespersons.


Despite the lies told by this government, the overblown claims made on anything from money made from surrender of LPG subsidies to terrorist attacks on military bases, to GDP growth to old government schemes masquerading as new, much of the media has remained in cheerleader mode since 2014. Some from even earlier.


The terrible impact of demonetisation has still not been fully and properly covered and analysed by some of the media. Notice how many news channels switched to the Jallikatu protests in Tamil Nadu as soon as the prime minister claimed that demonetisation had gone very well and everyone was happy on December 30, 2016.


The tragedy is that this capitulation of Indian journalism to a political force is not seen for the dereliction of principles that it is by much of the news media. Many of today’s journalists believe that their personal ambitions far outweigh any professional ethics. Hence, they are happy to take selfies with the prime minister instead of asking him questions about his claims and policies.


It has taken one speech and one lie about the size of a crowd to alter and anger the American press. What a harsh picture that paints of those of us who make a living justifying a government’s actions and behaviour.


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