Ranjona Banerji: So how did our media cover the ‘Wire’ expose?​

10 Oct,2017

By Ranjona Banerji

 

On Sunday, October 8, 2017, The Wire posted an investigation on its website by Rohini Singh. The story, using data from the Registrar of Companies (which is under the Ministry of Corporate Affairs), revealed that BJP president Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah, owned a hitherto loss-making company which grew 16,000 times in the financial years 2014-15 and 2015-16, from Rs 50000 to Rs 80.5 crore, got unsecure loans including from a Reliance connection and then shut down.

By any counts, this is a pretty explosive story. So how did the brave, upstanding, objective Indian media respond? While The Wire’s website crashed several times on Sunday because of increased traffic and social media was buzzing with it, most “news” channels decided to ignore the story. The Congress’s Kapil Sibal held a press conference on the matter, which was only shown by AB

​P​ News and NDTV. But in the evening, when Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal appeared in his other capacity as​’ spokesperson’​ for Jay Shah, and announced that Shah Jr would be filing a criminal defamation suit for Rs 100 crore, every “news” channel covered his announcement live.

Once again we see how fear of this government affects media decisions. When a similar investigation was done by Singh and Sruthijith KK for the Economic Times into the financial connections of Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra, with DLF in 2011, every news channel, newspaper, news agency, website took the story further. The UPA was in power then and like the BJP now, pulled out its big guns to defend Vadra. The opposition, especially the BJP, went to town – understandably – and those reactions were not censored or blanked out. Vadra was followed and questioned by journalists. No defamation suit was filed against Singh, Sruthijith or the Economic Times.

On Monday October 9, the newspapers which followed up on The Wire story, concentrated either on Shah Jr’s defamation suit or on the Opposition’s demand for a probe. The actual change in Jay Shah’s fortunes was not taken further – unlike in Vadra’s case. This focus continued to those news channels which covered the story that evening as well. Our most patriotic “news” channels focused on the more important subject of the week – a fight between Bollywood stars Kangana Ranaut and Hrithik Roshan.

News websites were the only media outlets which did credit to journalism. For most of the rest either ideological considerations or fear of legal action or fear of some other form of retribution made them play safe or run away and hide.

Personal attacks on Rohini Singh became the order of the day on social media which is now a fallout of every anti-government statement made by anybody. Her career was dissected and she was vilified by members of the BJP’s IT Cell. One of the worst attacks came from Opindia.com, a subsidiary of Swarajya.com, which showed the essence of petty viciousness which marks the rightwing reaction to criticism. On a personal note, I find it appalling that the editors of Swarajya, who should know better, would promote this sort of bile.

Singh, who is not on Twitter, issued a statement on Facebook, where she stated: “My primary job is to speak truth to power. To question the government of the day. In 2011, when I wrote the story on Robert Vadra’s dealings with DLF I do not remember the sort of backlash that I see now.”

Ultimately, journalism is encapsulated in Singh’s words: “… to speak truth to power. To question the government of the day.” That is practically lost today. From May 2014, we have seen a gradual but relentless degradation of the essence of journalism. Television media bears the brunt of the blame for their spineless capitulation to the “government of the day”. But newspapers have also succumbed, whether by pulling stories or sacking editors and staff. The climate is vitiated and the fear is real.

In this miserable state, two sorts of “journalists” have made matters worse. Those who have given in completely and those who consider themselves “neutral”, which means that they try and co-relate every transgression by the government in power with some similar action made earlier, thus ensuring that the current offence is diluted.

Forget taking sides. We’ve gone beyond that. Right now, it’s become who is willing to stand up. And I see the media space littered with cowering, craven, lily-livered, gutless worms.

Ooo, are you upset by that? I’m glad. Because you deserve it.

 

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

 

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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: So how did our media cover the ‘Wire’ expose?​”

  1. K VIJAY RAO says:

    A great note!!!!!! Its time people call a spade a spade and not worry about the lumpin elements of BJP taking law into their hands. Jounalists must feel terrible for letting down the fourth estate which should bring such issues to light and give a balanced reporting without fear or favour. Crudos to Ranjona for bringing out the failure of the press.

  2. hemendra varma says:

    Pretty silly and weak commentary in the classic “I am superior thatn thou” mould of the Lutyens & Leftist Media – there is no mention or acknowledgement by this lady of the stupidities and false imputations in Rohini Singh’s stgory. Should a story be carried just because it vilifies somebody in the “current power dispensation”.

    I do not know who carried and why some did not carry this story – but it is not unheard of that the boldest most reputed media all over the world do exercise journalistic restraint if there is some doubt about the content or the intent of the story.

    As the very next day’s events revealed, Rohini Singh’s story was a big concoction, the poor girl not knowing the difference between turnover and profits, between profit & loss and between LC and Loan.

    So please stop pontificating Ms. Ronjana Banerjee – you sound sillier than Rohini Singh’s weak and sly attempt to throw mud where no earth exists.

    Finally, the “other side” has every right to respond – they have done it in proper textbook fashion – filed a defamation suit, since they believe that they have been wrongly and falsely besmirched. Is it Ms. Banerjee’s thesis that this is wrong ?

    As for no suit being filed by Priyanka Gandhi or Robert Vadera, clearly the stories against them carry more weight and truth – that is why these 2 persons did not dare to file a suit for fear that more skeletons would come tumbling put of their closets !!

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