Ranjona Banerji: Our Media, Their Media

10 Feb,2017

By Ranjona Banerji


Am I putting too fine a point on it? Is the American media really thatsuperior to the Indian media? Am I being unfair in my comparisonsbetween the two? Am I giving American democracy too much credit while denigrating the Indian version?

But even as I ask these questions, I remain horrified by a portion ofthe Indian media and impressed by the relentless assertion of rightsby a large proportion of the American media. The Prime Minister ofIndia, NarendraModi made an unsavoury reference to a former PrimeMinister in Parliament. It was gratuitous and beyond the normal realmof polite conversation – even keeping Parliamentary norms, rules anddecorum aside for now. Certainly, Modi had every right to criticiseManmohan Singh – as has anyone else in India. Certainly, he can pointout, question, attack Singh’s flaws, mistakes and misdemeanours.

But it is easily argued that Modi crossed the line when he used themetaphor of Singh bathing in the bathroom with a raincoat on. This wasstreet language, maybe even election rally language but it isquestionable whether it is language befitting of an Indian PrimeMinister speaking in the Houses of Parliament.

Naturally, as it has done with everything Modi has said and done, somesections of the media ignored Modi’s comments and others presented itwithout comment. Individual journalists took to social media to defendModi and blame the Congress for Modi’s remarks. I am not countingsenior journalists like SwapanDasgupta who are now part of theestablishment and are clear about their loyalties. They are not hiding
behind a false mask of being neutral. But there were enough others tomake one cringe.

Contrast this with US President Donald Trump and the American media.The fact that Trump tweeted in favour of his daughter and against adepartment store was discussed threadbare, with all the problems of
protocol and conflict and interest the tweet implied. His adviserKellyanne Conway’s justification of Trump on this issue was dissected.

The invented terrorist attack in Atlanta by White House presssecretary Sean Spicer was torn apart by most of the media and all itsversions. Even rightwing media has called Trump out when he has neededto be. There are several ongoing battles on Twitter between Americanjournalists and the Trump administration.

As for comics and those shows which track the news, Trump has beenexcoriated. The fact that Trump blusters and bullies his way throughlife has not stopped these shows from attacking him or making fun of
Now try another contrast. Look at the way the Indian media – in amajor part – has reacted to Modi’s defence of demonetisation and hislies about how his plan worked very well. How many have taken up theselies and countered them with facts? Instead, anodyne headlines andbland reporting has been our way.

Of course, the dramatic and fast-moving events in Tamil Nadu havegiven our media some respite. And certainly every bit of this fightbetween two chief ministerial aspirants from the same party and onegovernor caught between the two, his duty and a Supreme Court judgmentnot to mention political wrangling, interference and popular anger hasbeen covered extensively by our English news channels.It is not often that South India gets so much attention from ourNorthward-looking channels so it is heartening when it happens. Thismay show up the general biases in Delhi-based newsrooms but it is goodto know that they make the effort sometimes. Am I damning them withfaint praise? Well, immediately evident was the lack of good Tamiltranslators available to the English channels. CNN-News18 had an
in-house advantage with their top anchor Zakka Jacob but the otherswere shown up when OP Panneerselvam emerged from his dramaticmeditation at the late J Jayalalithaa’s memorial and started his
revolt. Viewers who did not understand Tamil got no help at all fromthe anchors at the time. A sort of joint struggle to understand whatwas going on if you like!


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