​Ranjona Banerji: Damned if you damn the government?!

31 Oct,2017

By ​Ranjona Banerji

 

The most frightening news of the week has been the arrest of journalist Vinod Verma from his home in Ghaziabad last Friday. The charge is of blackmail, by Verma of Chhattisgarh PWD minister Rajesh Munat over a “sex CD”. Verma claims this CD has been available for over a year in Chhatisgarh and on the internet and that further, no such CD was found by the police when they searched his house. In spite of this he has been booked under the CrPC.

The most problematic aspect of this case is that Verma, a well-respected journalist, was part of a fact-finding group set up by the Editors Guild of India, to look into attacks on journalists in Chhatisgarh. The situation for journalists and activists is grave and dangerous in Chhatisgarh and Verma’s arrest only confirms this. To question the government is seen as tantamount to treason and to be a Maoist supporter and worse. Journalists are regularly threatened and harassed.

There are several loopholes in Verma’s arrest which make it clear that all is not as it appears. The journalist community however has perhaps not been as supportive of Verma as it could have. Perhaps that will come later. It could be because some journalists are preoccupied with being government PR agents, as the next section of this column proves.

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/chhattisgarh-journalist-vinod-verma-police-custody-raman-singh-sex-cd-case-4912935/

 

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I didn’t watch it but I gather that CNN

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News18 held a “debate” at 9 pm on Monday night on whether the Congress Party was anti-national. I only know this because a senior journalist from the news channel tweeted about it.

CNN News18, much as it has been castigated and mocked for being Ambani-owned, has on the whole been less adulatory to the ruling dispensation than say India Today TV or Times Now or NewsX or of course Republic TV. But eventually, most of the media falls into the same pattern: following the agenda set by the government. Some do it to steady their platform and ensure that they don’t get into trouble for too much criticism. Others decide that it is better to become an informal government spokesperson rather than a critic in case of a backlash from the powers that be.

In some cases, it is the journalists themselves who become cheerleaders. And very often, it is the management which sends down the diktat.

Whoever is responsible, you cannot but wonder at what constitutes journalism in this TV world. “Is the Congress anti-national” sounds ridiculous, no matter how much you dislike the party or feel contempt for Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Even yellow and tabloid journalism is not this idiotic. I really don’t know what other word to use.

 

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The enormous battle between millennials and old-style feminists continues over “the list” of predatory male academics and several newspapers and websites have carried opinions on it. However, similar predators in the media have remained safe and secure. The fear of ruining reputations and of naming friends is at work; god knows we are all guilty of that.

If we cannot go as far as “name and shame” then perhaps journalists need to take on some old-fashioned legwork: how many media organisations have followed the Visakha guidelines and set up committees to deal with accusations of sexual harassment, how many of these are functional, how much action has been taken on so on.

This is the least that can be done. No?

 

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

 

 

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