Ranjona Banerji: Compulsive, Obsessive… Repulsive!

21 Apr,2017

By Ranjona Banerji


Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam puts out a tweet about getting disturbed by Azaan calls from a neighbourhood mosque and asks when enforced religion will stop.


Let’s set aside the fact that noise pollution in India comes from a number of sources, not just mosques, and that Bollywood music for instance is one of the worst offenders. Let’s also set aside the fact that Nigam is entitled to have and share an opinion, no matter whether some people like it or not.


Let’s instead make all the news only about Sonu Nigam and a narrow definition of secularism. Let’s concentrate only on what he said and on nothing else. Let’s go to his house and measure how far away every mosque is and check decibel levels. Let’s check how much one can hear with an air-conditioner on and with an air-conditioner off. Let’s follow responses on the internet and make stories out of those. Let’s listen for anyone else in his neighbourhood who makes too much noise.


Then, wait for it. Inevitably, someone will issue a fatwa or put a bounty on Nigam’s head or literally in this case, on his hair. And someone will file a police complaint for offending “sentiments” which are most easily offended in India.


The end result is that some hitherto unknown maulvi/mullah/priest becomes famous and Nigam gets loads of free publicity.


The other result is that almost every bit of news of any significance gets drowned out.


This obsessive follow-the-leader or follow-the-trend form of journalism is not just lazy, it is ridiculous. Yet it is obviously compulsive. One starts and like a flock of sheep every newsroom follows the leader. To what end is unclear but the effect is baa-ring. Sorry, sorry, I could not resist that cheap pun.


Meanwhile, there is urban and rural distress in parts of India, thanks to climate changes and government policy, the economy is not showing any signs of picking up, the Babri Masjid demolition case has taken several turns which have political, legal and social implications… to list just a few issues facing journalists.


Add to that list fights for privacy and the legality of the Unique Identity number or Aadhar, China walking in and renaming parts of Arunachal Pradesh, the condition of Jammu and Kashmir which has fast spiralled into disaster. Perhaps it is just easier for news editors to focus on Sonu Nigam and his dislike of Azaan calls, his voluntary shaving of his head to beat a mullah’s bounty on his hair and whatever else has happened in that little story.


I even miss the days when cricket ruled every news cycle…




The journalistic game of trivial pursuits is evident everywhere though. Here in the United Kingdom where I am on holiday right now, prime minister Theresa May has announced mid-term general elections. The BBC spoke to one person who was horrified. Her trenchant and forthright criticism on elections again went viral. The BBC went back to her to show her that her comments had thrilled the internet. She said she had no idea about it …. Then we had to watch her drinking tea and watching television in her living room, standing in her kitchen and sitting with the reporter watching herself on the internet.


Elsewhere in London, there was a fire on the railway tracks which shut Euston station down. The story however was not about what caused the fire or the cost or the commuter chaos so much as about the reporter standing outside the station telling us that there was commuter chaos. No commuter rage went viral on this story.




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