Ranjona Banerji: Journalism, RIP?!

17 Oct,2017

​By Ranjona Banerji


You get overwhelmed sometimes by the apparent collapse of journalism in India. It seems that nothing else is happening except owners, managements and greedy journalists kowtowing to the powers-that-be or even worse, stoking the fires of hatred and bigotry. There is enough evidence of this, visible every day.

It is undoubtedly true that some of the stories are as old as journalism itself. There have always been greedy, rapacious, power-hungry people who have exploited their connections to get ahead. Or made connections to get ahead. Or failed to scrutinise their connections to get ahead. Personal ambition has trumped professional pride over, and over, again. The great concept of journalistic ethics is sometimes a custom more honoured in the breach.

But this argument itself is fallacious in the current context. Because the sheer volume of bad journalism appears to have broken all earlier records. In India, The Emergency is held up as the best example of the worst of journalists. Craven bootlickers who crawled when they were asked to bend, paraphrasing BJP leader LK Advani’s words.

And in what way have we become any better today? The size of the media has expanded incalculably since 1975 and so has its power, accessibility and influence. Therefore, when we watch the sort of calculated bootlicking of today’s journalist, unable to do even one story against the government in power or unable to take a stand when Indians are denied their rights and their dignity, then what else can you feel but despair. It’s worse though. There are media groups which have taken it upon themselves to profit from our social weaknesses and fissures. They go out of their way to foment sectarian violence and hatred. I don’t really know what this phenomenon is called in journalistic terms.

Then there’s the jealousy by belittling brigade, out in full force. Earlier we just shut up about good stories done by rivals or shamelessly copied them or “followed up” to try and get some reflected glory. In all three reactions, the story remained the focus and possibly benefitted from additional work. But now, in large quantities, we have bile and spite from writers who for some inexplicable reasons are considered “journalists” or are made editors.

They denigrate work done by others, but only if it questions the government in power. Take The Wire’s story on Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah. Any number of these sarkari editors have called it badly researched. Yet the figures have come from the government. They were available to anyone who chose to look. Just because you did not, is it not interesting that you waste so much effort in downgrading the effort of those who did? Why not expend your considerable (if self-declared) skills in either proving the story wrong, although alas, that does not guarantee a Padma award or official position, or show off your editor’s skills in taking the story further?

Spite is one thing in a school room. In adult life, it just exposes you as incompetent.

So yes, journalism has never been as bad as it is now. Some of what is practised is not journalism at all. Editors who take stands become jobless. Others are buried in legal cases. Everywhere the long arm of the government tries to stop all criticism. And at the forefront of the rubbish heap of history are all you so-called editors and journalists who helped them.

O ya, some of us will remember.

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