Ranjona Banerji: When TV journalists lose all semblance of being observers, reporters & editors

09 May,2017

By Ranjona Banerji

Coming back to India this week after a month away in the UK, I see that I have Republic TV’s commitment to nationalism to look forward to. Or, in another way of putting it, more of the same but this time, with a great leap backwards to Arnab Goswami.

Advertising appears to suggest that Goswami and his news channel will be “Pakistan’s migraine” and that the mantle of nationalism that has been lying forgotten will now be won with pride. That India’s borders will defended to the last shout in Indian TV studios. Where else, you may ask, should India’s borders be defended?

However, given the make-up of Republic TV and much of Indian news television, almost no one is likely to question how and why India’s borders have been breached quite so often in recent times or how terrorists from Pakistan have walked into armed areas with so much apparent ease. Perhaps it is unfair of me to suggest that no one has been questioned. Over and again, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who died in 1964 has been questioned. His great grandson Rahul Gandhi, who has not held any constitutional administrative post has also been questioned. No one currently in power has been found responsible in any way.

My fellow columnist Jaisurya Das was asked recently if “decorum was dead in the news media”, after a news anchor told a studio guest from Pakistan to “shut up”. Jaisurya commented: “This is typical of the immature arrogance of anchors who often forget where to draw the line in their effort to build TRPs. Little do they realise that such language and demeanour only turns people off and they stand to lose more in the bargain.”

That people are writing in to complain about such behaviour is small comfort when you know the immense reach and influence that TV has on the public. Adulation, stardom, hatred, familiarity all allow TV journalists to become bigger than they are. The result is that they lose all semblance of being journalists, of being observers, reporters and editors. Sadly, TV has brought out the worst in us.

Goswami in his interview to Pradyuman Maheshwari before the launch of Republic TV declared that he was proud of his nationalism and that he held no truck with “Aman ki Asha”, an initiative towards dialogue with Pakistan started by his former employer, the Times of India.

This makes for an intriguing position – would any attempt at peace with Pakistan be stopped by Goswami? If the current Indian government tried it, would he fight them? Is diplomacy to him a lost cause already? Because Goswami operates only within the confines of one news show, it is hard to grasp his intellectual position on such matters. Is humankind doomed to never make peace in his mind?

Interestingly and perhaps expectedly, Republic TV’s big “scoop” on launch day was some expose on former Bihar chief minister Lalu Yadav. As anyone with any smattering of political knowledge is aware, Yadav is already debarred from standing for elections because of corruption cases. The target for Goswami and his backers is never likely to be the BJP government or the Prime Minister or indeed any minister in the BJP.

Once you know that, it makes life and choices much easier. As Maheshwari pointed out in a column here last week, “Or is it that a country which is not too fussed on ethics and corruption, passage of time ensures things are forgotten and condoned. We all know of some entities indulging in unethical practices, but do we really shun them? On the contrary, we embrace them. We allow them to flourish. We read or watch them, we attend or speak at their events, we accept their awards.

Perhaps we deserve such a media.”

Do wee?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator and Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are personal

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