Ranjona Banerji: To report the truth, or not to…

02 May,2017

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Sitting in another country, watching India on Twitter, life seems even more chaotic than it was two weeks ago when I was there. A minister in Madhya Pradesh gave bats to brides as presents so that they could hit their abusive alcoholic husbands. A Canadian academic asked me what I felt about news like this getting wide publicity, since it showed India in such an old-fashioned, regressive light.

 

What is the answer to that question? Is the responsibility of a journalist to expose regressive behaviour and frankly harmful government decisions or must we whitewash and cover up the truth so that India is seen in a good light by others? Is the media going out of its way to present India in a bad light a sign of treason? Or, is it the job of the media to follow a story regardless of its PR consequences?

 

Yes, yes, I know these are perennial questions that we grapple with everyday. But we all see them differently. So here’s another question: is a journalist a journalist who ignores such a story? Is a journalist a journalist who ignores this story because it shows the government, India and the party of his or her choice in a bad light?

 

The thing is, if you have journalists who make a big deal about a chief minister feeding treats to his pet calves while ignoring “cow protection squads” who are running amuck murdering and beating people up, then what is wrong with a journalist who reports on a government minister who advocates violence? (It is another matter that not enough journalists report or comment on the appalling truth that so many politicians and public servants do not understand that they have sworn to uphold the rule of law.)

 

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Brexit dominates conversations and the media here in Britain as do the upcoming general elections. There is conviction that the Conservatives will win again but there is also anger that there is no other party to put up a proper fight. This may sound familiar to many in India. However, there is no let up as far as coverage of any party is concerned. The larger focus is on Theresa May and the ruling Conservatives rather than the other parties who are not in power. This may not be so familiar to many in India.

 

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Turkey’s terrible treatment of journalists has not got the attention it deserves – over 150 journalists jailed for criticised the RecepTayyib Erdogan government, for cartoons, for anything at all that the president and his team find offensive. Unfortunately, in spite of 120 plus journalists – while the government does not admit to more than 30 – being put in jail or just having vanished, the situation is not being taken seriously.

 

The crackdown followed last year’s coup. Since then, media houses have also been shut down and many are being starved financially – over 2500 people have been laid off and 800 journalists have lost their press cards.

 

Much of the brunt is also faced by Kurdish journalists who are serially harassed by the authorities if not put away in secret.

There is a danger here for all journalists not least because Turkey purports to be a democracy. However we provide any support we can, surely we must?

(Though perhaps not those of us who see ourselves as government or cow baby PR agents?)

 

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