Ranjona Banerji: Did Irani make moves on her own or on instruction?

18 May,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Some wag said on Twitter that the BJP should have made Smriti Irani chief minister of Karnataka at least for one day. The inference should be obvious to anyone following politics – Irani has been through a number of ministries and then been moved out. It is difficult to say which were her most controversial – HRD or I&B. But for the media, it was definitely Information and Broadcasting which was the bigger disaster.

Enormous efforts were made to control the media, without the bother of a pronouncement like a National Emergency. Her problems with the film industry aside, as far as the news media is concerned, she started off with a battle with Prasar Bharati, refusing to pay salaries and changing contract agreements to suit private parties.

Then she issued an extremely unacceptable directive on “fake news”, targeting the print and television media, which included journalists losing accreditation. The Press Council was reconstituted to give “power” such as it is to known pro-government, pro-BJP journalists. A huge uproar later, the directive was withdrawn.

But clearly, the minister was not finished. Her next move was to attempt to take on internet journalism and muzzle it to whatever extent possible.

There has been a debate over whether Irani does this by herself or on instruction. The scuttlebutt said she was an RSS choice as HRD minister so they could set the education agenda. After her various run-ins as I&B minister, the pro-Narendra Modi faction in the media ran the overturning of her fake news directive as the prime minister’s stepping in to save free speech.

However, I am sceptical. It seems highly unlikely that Irani operates totally on her own with no direction or supervision, given the tight control on government matters and the power of the PMO. It is more likely that this was the BJP testing the waters on media control. The longer they are in power, the more they will try to muzzle criticism. By my reckoning, a closer eye needs to be kept on Rajyavardhan Rathore, who has replaced Irani.

Of course, given the completely pro-government, pro-BJP stance of so many of our news channels and our journalists, one may well wonder why the government is even bothering to intervene. Their fans are doing the work for free. I hope, that is.

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Meanwhile, the Karnataka assembly election results continue to show up some of the media’s disingenuousness and lack of integrity. The arguments that horse-trading is normal when the BJP does it from the same characters who have hissy fits about corruption when anyone else is accused of it is very amusing. Plus of course this fake naivete that is on display at times like this.

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Today the Mumbai Press Club holds its prestigious annual RedInk Awards, celebrating the best in Indian journalism. A scintillating evening seems to be on the cards with a debate on “Is there a Business in News Media?”, moderated by Govindraj Ethiraj. The participants are N Ram, Raghav Bahl, Vijay Darda, Anant Goenka and Samir Patil.

Congratulations to Mark Tully for his Lifetime Achievement Award and Faye D’Souza for winning Journalist of the Year. These awards have been announced and we at MxM look forward to congratulating the winners as their names are declared tonight.

Have a great night guys and wish I was there!

 

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

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