Ranjona Banerji: Where’s the coverage on the Finance Bill, Aadhaar and demonetisation figures? Lost in Moo-Moo Land?

31 Mar,2017

By Ranjona Banerji


There has been a barrage of criticism that “the media” has not adequately covered the changes made to the finance bill, the peculiar relationship between the Aadhar scheme, the government and the judiciary and the exact numbers that have come out of demonetisation. The criticism is certainly true when it comes to television news because none of those three possible stories have much TV appeal.


ABP News for instance outdid itself – and Gaurav Sawant of India Today TV special Moo-Moo Land coverage – by advertising a story where UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s barber “revealed” how the UP CM managed to stay bald all the time. It is a rule of journalism that any story from glamour to sports to politics to business is journalism if it follows basic rules. And yet, one longs to have been a fly in the newsroom as this story was discussed.


How have newspapers fared with these three issues? The problem is obvious to anyone who has been involved in trying to bring out a paper. Serious as they are, they are not easy to explain or to analyse. Although all media outlets give massive coverage to the unveiling of the Union budget in Parliament, a lot of it is window dressing – massive graphics, pretty pictures and certain information boiled down to easily swallowed pabulum.


The changes to the Finance Bill, passed by voice vote in the Lok Sabha and amendments forced on the government in the Rajya Sabha, are complicated and dry. They may have far-reaching consequences – possibly more than Adityanath’s barber’s secrets – but they have little sex appeal. Where then does the responsibility of a newspaper lie? Do people need to be told that they have been cheated or lied to, when it is hard to explain exactly how? Should one just take the easy way out and focus on how cricketer Virat Kohli has “unfriended” Australia instead?


When it comes to Aadhar, the story is equally fraught with complications. The political angle – the BJP disliked it when in opposition, embraced it when in government – is covered. The judicial angle – the government keeps making Aadhar mandatory when the Supreme Court keeps saying it is voluntary – is covered, but less. Yet the most frightening aspect of Aadhar and the current government has got very little space. If the personal and biometric details of Indian citizens who have enrolled in the Unique Indentification Authority of India’s scheme are being sold to private companies or being used to spy on people, then surely those citizens have a right to know?


If these concerns have any heft, then journalists have a duty to examine them. We are looking at state overreach, constitutional impropriety and a mockery of democracy. And yet, forget the cows that Adityanath feeds, any other story has got more traction than this. Even the fact that writer and entrepreneur Sameer Kochchar has an FIR against him for writing about Aadhar’s vulnerabilities has got more traction that the problems with Aadhar or how former cricketer MS Dhoni’s details were revealed and the resultant spat between his wife and a Union minister. But the actual nuts and bolts problems with privacy and Aadhar, are clearly not a “mainstream media” issue. The very fact of an FIR however is one more example of how there is something rotten in the State.


And then we reach demonetisation. The government recently announced that it had no figures on how much black money there was in the economy before demonetisation and it has no figures now after demonetisation. This is a massive cheat on the people of India because we were told by no less than the prime minister that this move would end corruption and if not end, then severely damage the black money market. Some evidence would be nice and some journalists who look for evidence would be even better.


Given the state of fear some in the media appear to live in now, perhaps sycophancy is less life-threatening? Therefore, more moo moo and snip snip and less actual work.


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