Ranjona Banerji: Media running scared of government?!

19 Sep,2017

By Ranjona Banerji

 

After news of Bobby Ghosh quitting Hindustan Times broke, the rumour mill has been full of other names who have or will soon be asked to leave their editors’ posts. Managements, according to prevailing gossip, are now scared of repercussions from the government of India, which has become very sensitive to criticism. And no matter how much “sanskari” journalists would like to carry on with their PR exercises, the state of the Indian economy alone has meant that even those favourably inclined to the BJP are being forced to ask questions of the government and its policies.

I exempt from this magazines and websites like Swarajya.com which have tried to criticise some aspects of the government’s economic policies but then come up with absolutely cracking theories to justify some actions like the rise in prices of petrol, more than half of which are government taxes. When previous governments have done the same thing, they were wrong of course. But when the BJP government does it, the intention is to curb jihadi terrorism. IS, one hears, is quivering in its boots at this brilliant counter-move by the Indian government?

To get back to scuttlebutts on media changes and removals, if indeed managements are running scared what hope do journalists have? Senior editors or those in charge at the moment are not really known for showing a whole lot of courage or gumption. If you recall, after the raids on NDTV, the best and most forceful speakers in support of the media were retired editors. Are we going to see a pushback from those in positions of power today? I hope but I do not hold my breath.

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The hope, such as it is in today’s climate, will come from the independent media and I do not mean Republic TV. Rather, independent websites run by journalists have so far shown the most courage and more journalism than established media outlets. The Wire, Scroll, Catch News, Janata ka Reporter are only some of these. Because they are not owned by large corporations with multiple business interests, they have an immediate advantage. And since rich owners have only meant shrinking newsgathering allowances, it is not that journalism has really benefitted from managements. Except for a few pay packets for some journalists.

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Rahul Gandhi continues to be a topic of speculation in the media. Some hope he will emerge from his chrysalis as a mega leader to take on Narendra Modi, others think the tide has turned in his favour and former sceptics have started to see his views and words in new and more pleasant light. Unfortunately, the Congress Party’s social media team is ultra-sensitive about criticism of Gandhi although it is overjoyed when the BJP and government are attacked by the same journalists. Now that even esteemed columnists like Tavleen Singh, who have been very supportive of Modi and extremely acidic about all the Gandhi, have seen some sense in Rahul Gandhi’s comments, the Congress social media team needs to pick its adversaries better. Why descend to the same level as the BJP’s trolls?

 

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

 

 

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