Ranjona Banerji: A fake patriotism test wins over real news?​

22 Aug,2017

​By Ranjona Banerji


How does one determine the big news of the day or week? In a regular world, it might be continued coverage of the deaths of children at a hospital in Gorakhpur. Or continued coverage of a rail accident in Muzaffarnagar, with negligence being alleged. Or a fast-breaking scam in Bihar, involving an NGO and political and bureaucratic patronage. Or devastating floods in Assam and Bihar. Or hundreds of cows dying in “shelters” run by BJP politicians in Chhatisgarh?

Not of course if you are “patriotic” television channel, which occasionally dabbles in news. Bihar, UP, Chhattisgarh where these events have taken place are all BJP-run or BJP-coalition states. Therefore, if you are “patriotic” television channel which dabbles in news, the top subjects of the day are obvious: “Are Muslims patriotic”, “How to distinguish a real patriot from a pseudo-patriot” and why we must all chant Vande Mataram 20 times a day to prove we are Indian.

A few deaths here and there, a few rail tracks removed, an oxygen supply disturbed, heavy rainfall – well, that is life, that is death, this is India. Vande Mataram, as Navika Kumar of Times Now informed us a couple of weeks ago, that is the “real issue”.

Just a small comparison with the United States (I hear the groans of “O no, not again”, I do!). The Economist, in a piece headlined “Unfit” on US president Donald Trump and his inability (refusal?) to condemn white supremacists, says: “Having equivocated at his first press conference on Saturday, Mr Trump said what was needed on Monday and then undid all his good work on Tuesday, briefly uniting Fox News and Mother Jones in their criticism, surely a first.”

That is, two news outlets from opposite ends of the spectrum, found Trump’s inability to condemn events at Charlottesville unacceptable. Fox News has been Trump’s main support and his main source of news since his campaign. But the president’s equivocation on a dangerous subject was unacceptable even to his supporting media act.

How often have you seen this sort of reaction from the Indian media, particularly the Indian television media?

For instance, undertrials in all sorts of cases eventually get bail and/or acquittal because of the extreme slow pace of the Indian judicial system. This includes people accused of terrorist acts. If the accused are Muslim, the usual reaction is the horror of having a terrorist out loose in society. Few reporters and TV anchors have much idea about jurisprudence, the importance of an investigation and evidence or even of the concept of bail. Bail is often seen as being equal to innocence.

However, when Lt Colonel Shrikant Purohit, an accused in the 2008 Malegoan Blasts case gets bail, a TV anchor on one of our not-always patriotic channels is full of pain for the poor accused, having spent so many years in jail. The same or even equivalent pain was not felt on television when earlier this month all 10 accused were acquitted in a 2005 case in Hyderabad, where a bomb went off at a Task Force office. Those acquitted – acquitted mind you for lack of evidence, not given bail – were Muslim.

This is the “new India” sometimes not so different from the old India, except this sort of blatant divisiveness was not always so evident in the media.

When Rakesh Sinha of the RSS is given ample space in newspapers and on television to claim that the RSS played a major role in India’s freedom struggle – without providing any evidence – and this space is given “to be objective”, then you can clearly see how our national discourse is being directed and by whom.

Meanwhile, to keep up their part of the bargain to be incompetent, some Indian newspapers have been telling us for days in their headlines that the AIADMK “may merge” yesterday, today, tomorrow, day after. Few tell us that this merger will possibly help the BJP gain more seats in the Rajya Sabha.

My headline for the day: “It may or may not rain tomorrow, people may or may not die and India may or may not win a cricket match.”


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