Ranjona Banerji​: This v/s That type of journalism?!

03 Oct,2017

​By ​Ranjona Banerji

 

As journalists gathered across India to protests attacks on journalists as well as on freedom of expression, an intriguing argument has developed on the side. This “type” of journalism against that “type”. That journalists are under threat is no secret. That not enough has been said and spoken about these attacks is no secret either. However, in recent times, protests from journalists have increased. The attacks on journalists at the Patiala Court, the murder of Jitendra Singh in UP, the threats to Malini Subramaniam in Chhatisgarh were treated as events by the national press where earlier they would have been ignored, although perhaps discussed in private media fora. The old belief was the media is not the news. That shibboleth has been junked and to some extent, good riddance.

The murder of Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru last month however did shock most people and galvanised the media community. That is, most of the community because like everyone else in this country the media is also stuck in a “with us or against us” division. In fact, this binary argument, to use the current jargon, has stopped us from dealing with the crux of the matter. To whatever extent we have had government interference before, all condemnable, we are currently facing a very strong government and political backlash for being critical of those in power.

It is disheartening to see young journalists truly believe that their job is to support the government – those older are beyond redemption! Yet surely the essence of our job, when it comes to our larger role as the “fourth estate” in a democracy, is to question those in power and hold them up to scrutiny. We do not get our mandate from any government but from the people and the Constitution. I am not talking about criticism for the sake of criticism. I am talking about questioning and analysing.

There are views in the media that some journalists are too critical of the prime minister of India Narendra Modi and that this hatred is affecting journalistic clarity. Counter opinions say that questioning Modi or being critical is not hatred. I would humbly submit that while both these opinions are legitimate and must be heard, they are missing the woods for the trees. One could just as easily argue that hatred of the Congress stops journalists from fully understanding Rahul Gandhi: just change the party and the name of the politician and you can make the same argument for anyone.

The argument, as far as I’m concerned is not whether Modi/BJP is over criticised or should not be criticised. It is that the scanner should concentrate on him and his party because he is in power. And it cannot be denied that whole swathes of journalists have been so obsessed with the opposition that it looks like they are trying to let the government off the hook. To flip the argument, even after the horrendous collapse of a bridge at Elphinstone station in Mumbai, news channels were looking for scapegoats in Prithviraj Chavan, former chief minister of Maharashtra and Sharad Pawar, NCP leader. Neither hold any government post today and Pawar has not for years. This is journalism that tries to deflect attention from those responsible because of its immense love for the BJP and Modi?

Although I have been an opinionater for years now, I would balk at giving oped writers more significance in the media hierarchy that those who are out in the field and especially those who plan and prioritise the news of the day. They are the ones with the power and the bigger burden falls on them to ensure that they fulfil their first mandate: to question those in power regardless of party, personality and affiliation.

As a footnote, always the bigger problem looms: owners and the management. As we see now, and we have seen before, they can do the biggest damage to media clarity and objectivity.

 

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

 

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