Ranjona Banerji: Look out of the window and practise real journalism

24 Jul,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

This quote is doing the rounds on social media, loosely attributed to any number of journalism mavens. The small amount of detective work I could do on Twitter led me to this tweet from this account:

Sally Claire, @Klujypop: My fave tutor at uni had a great journalism 101 lesson: “If someone says it’s raining & another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out of the f**king window and find out which is true.”

 

Regardless of provenance, this is one aspect of journalism which has been washed down the drain, especially though not exclusively, on news television. It applies to the way journalism is practised today, not just in India but around the world. So far it has made for spectacle: X says Yes. Y says No. Both fight. We watch in glee as they try to trip each other up. Facts have little or no role to play here and the journalist is an enabler for the bout and nothing else.

How far can this carry on before we are caught out? Some may argue that it has gone on for so long that there is no way back. That people do not care about facts. That because governments and corporates control the media, there is no option but to play along. All these may be true to some extent, but they cannot be permanently and wholly true.

If one more man is lynched to death by a vicious mob, is there a yes or no argument to be made which journalists have to play ball with? If the government tries to blame the opposition for trying to discuss the matter, who must be held to account? If government representatives try to present us with soothing platitudes – justice will be done and so on, must the journalist question the government’s stance or the opposition’s stance?

The No Confidence Motion and the Alwar lynching both share the same timeline. One can grant them equal news space. But the fun of Parliament aside (I use that word deliberately), the lynching pandemic across India is far more frightening in its human, social, political and economic consequences. I have purposely mentioned these four aspects, because for many of my colleagues in journalism, the economic cost of lopsided government policies and ideas are often presented as far more important than the human and social costs.

Indeed, as we saw on NDTV’s Big Fight last week, when India Spend, the pioneering news website when it comes to data-based journalism in India, was accused of not being fair in its data collection on lynching, the news anchor neither corrected the accuser nor gave India Spend the right to defend itself. Let’s go back to the quote at the beginning. It’s not about who said yes and who said no. Is there an increase in mob violence in India, especially related to the cow and now to rumours on social messaging platforms? The Supreme Court certainly thinks so, no matter how blind various of our journalists and commentators choose to be.

The Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh stood up in Parliament and said that the Congress cannot afford to talk about lynching because the 1984 riots targeted at Sikhs was the worst India has seen. If indeed riots are the same as lynching, then with what face can the BJP actually say this and why has Singh not been publicly called out by every television news anchor in India? All they have to do is look out of the window, yes?

**

Plenty of self-righteous humbuggery on social media from journalists after extracts from TV journalist and ace interviewer Karan Thapar’s yet-to-be published memoirs appeared in a few news sites. Thapar has apparently let the side down by revealing his “sources”. That’s the trouble with “access journalism” where you feel important people must speak to you to make you feel important. Far worse than telling the reader what “he said and she said and they said”, was the seeming grovelling that Thapar did to get Narendra Modi to talk to him again and to find out why he was persona non grata with the BJP.

Delhi journalists, o my. To us outsiders, they are often another breed.

 

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

 

 

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