Ranjona Banerji: When personal prejudices get editors to lose their neutrality

13 Jun,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

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Three female journalists have got death threats on social media and via the telephone in past month or so. Rana Ayyub’s ordeal has been well-documented. Barkha Dutt has said not just her but her family has been threatened and she was warned not to “practice journalism until 2019”. And now Nidhi Razdan received a message on Instagram saying, “I will hang you, I will execute you”.

What the three have in common is that they are perceived as being anti the current BJP dispensation in power at the Centre, in a government led by Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley. Regardless however of whether their journalism is objective or factual, this very perception is enough to get supporters of the BJP and/or of Modi and the party’s extensive paid troll army into violent and vicious mode. In such circumstances, they are unlikely to get much if any actual support from the authorities except perhaps some lip service. Everything depends possibly on individual police officers.

Even within the journalistic fraternity, one wonders. The garb of “neutrality” has increasingly been used to mark personal prejudices, and threats are therefore explained as “freedom of speech”. On June 11, “news” appeared on Twitter, claiming that JNU student Shehla Rashid, hated by all Hindu rightwingers, had been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code for a tweet about Union minister Nitin Gadkari and the assassination threat to PM Modi. Some of those who engaged with the tweet and commented on it, taking it to be true, were Sunil Jain, editor of the Financial Express and R Jagannathan, editor of Swarajya.com.

Both these editors have decades of experience and ample resources at their fingertips to confirm what is “news” and what is lies. But both chose to believe the story. I attribute no motives buy anyone who follows their recent work and their tweets may hazard a guess. As it turns out, Rashid was not booked under anything, no matter how offensive some people found her tweet. It took Alt News to put the facts out. Alt News does a commendable job in exposing journalists for failing in their basic responsibilities.

https://www.altnews.in/fake-news-about-shehla-rashid-booked-for-tweet-on-nitin-gadkari-circulates-on-social-media/

 

What this says about the credibility of journalists is salutary. We have junked fact-checking for personal prejudice, we have no qualms about spreading lies and we apparently are not smart enough to realise that a public Twitter account becomes attached to our work persona.

Tragically, the maximum whataboutery, spreading of fake news and semaphoring of prejudice comes from rightwing journalists. They are unashamed and in a sense, have no desire to be part of the journalistic community because love for one political party appears to be greater. For all the journalists accused of being “dynasts”, this predilection was not so obvious,

Bad times.

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This survey by Poynter has some more lessons for journalists. It tells us that not only do some people not know what we’re talking about when we load them with journalistic jargon, they also understand more than we think.

https://www.poynter.org/news/here-fresh-evidence-journalists-may-misunderstand-public

 

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

 

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