Ranjona Banerji: A Question of Access

01 Aug,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Last night on a news channel, I watched a bureau chief of a newspaper making excuses for the “mistakes” in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, the draft report of which was released by the government on Monday. The mistakes? Some 4 million or 40 lakh people have been left out of the list. They will now have to reprove their citizenship.

Is it the job of a journalist to make excuses for a government report and then assure the public that corrections will be made? How convenient for the government. And is potentially depriving 4 million people of their citizenship a small mistake or a big one?

Like almost everything else with the BJP, the NRC provides more evidence of social and therefore media divisions. But instead of being on high alert, the media has all too often fallen into that nationalism trap which has meant that there is very little journalism being practised.

The NRC has the potential to be one of India’s most divisive issues in recent times. And let us not hold our breath, a good number of our colleagues will fail the test because they are so busy trying to curry favour with the powers-that-be. Many are so far gone that they do not care but at least those who work for Republic TV or Swarajya.com have at least made their affiliations clear.

Watch this space.

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TV journalist Karan Thapar has stirred up the whole debate about “access journalism” and how it works. Access is important if you are reporter and all you want to do is interview people. But journalism is much more than that. So, all editors will want journalists who have “access” but they also need (or used to, at any rate) journalists who are able to wheedle out the information which no one wants to share. And often, that is how you lose access by upsetting someone important somewhere. The balance then is between getting a good story and continuing with access.

I have worked with people who choose access over a story everyday and others who do not care. Why Thapar was so desperate to get back into the BJP’s good books after his famous interview with Narendra Modi, where Modi walked out, is not that easy to fathom. He could, equally, have milked his lack of “access” and made himself a sort of interview ninja who does not care who talks to him or not.

Anyway, people are fickle in the extreme and often the prospect of publicity is so alluring that they give up all pretensions of anger and hurt. In the old days before PR controlled the glamour industries, film people would be in constant fights with the same journalists. Pour their hearts out one day, abuse them the next. That was par for the course. But this was in the days before TV, so the journalist was not really competing in the glamour stakes.

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The other possible disaster looming for us is the fight over data privacy and the loopholes in the new Srikrishna report on data protection. Not many can understand it, seems to be the problem, but that is no reason to shy away from it.

Luckily now since everything that happens on Twitter becomes a story (lazy journalism is useful sometimes), the mistake made by outgoing TRAI chief by making his Aadhaar number public has become a fine example of why your data needs to be private.

https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/300718/man-deposits-re-1-in-trai-chief-rs-sharma-account-aadhaar-challenge.html

After Sharma’s debacle, this advisory came from UIDAI:

https://www.thequint.com/news/india/aadhaar-number-uidai-trai-chief-rs-sharma-challenge

And here are the possible dangers to our fundamental right to privacy, as contained in the Srikrishna report on data protection:

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-fundamental-error/article24566374.ece

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There are challenges being thrown at India and the media from all directions. Will we cope?

 

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

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