Ranjona Banerji: Big Brother is watching you and watch out if you are watching Big Brother

10 Aug,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

British academic and chair of the Green House thinktank, Rupert Read, writes in The Guardian about why he refused to appear on a BBC radio show to “debate” with a climate change denier. Read’s argument is simple and pertinent:

“But I will no longer put up with the absurd notion that a straight debate about the science can be justified, especially given the fundamental truth that we’ve known for decades: that even if there were any real room for doubt about the science, we should still take radical action to safeguard a liveable climate, on the basis of the Precautionary Principle. This principle of international law states that even the absence of certainty about the risk of widespread and catastrophic harm to the environment or public health ought not to stop us from taking preventive action to head off such potentially ruinous harms.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/02/bbc-climate-change-deniers-balance

It is this malady of fake objectivity and false equivalences which also plagues the Indian media today, more particularly television (since we do not really have news on the radio). The essence of news or understanding of news is not a “debate”. There is nothing to be served but sensationalism when you call a variety of people to your show, some of whom will say rape exists and others will say it doesn’t. As you do that, the news itself, even if you do not have a social conscience or moral compass, gets lost or irreparably diluted. It is journalism gone haywire.

It’s why every night one watches the most absurd set of arguments between “one side” and the other. In most of these issues, there no “sides”. What is the “other side” when it comes to mass rape in an orphanage? This need to be objective becomes especially evident when the Modi government and its allies have to be protected. This is also when our “objective” and “neutral” anchors bring out every past transgression by other political parties in order to protect the BJP. I even see excellent journalists with vast experience falling for this little trick. Justifying mass rape or violence by religious pilgrims is not objectivity. You all know what it is.

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The bigger issue for the media remains how to remain “objective” when covering Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and the BJP. According to the latest revelation by TV journalist Punya Prasun Bajpai in The Wire, the government’s media monitoring cell now employs 200 people to ensure that Modi and Shah get enough TV coverage.

Before our neutrals start hyperventilating, let it be clear that the monitoring cell is a UPA invention. But its intent was quite different. Bajpai’s latest article underlines one more the scale and size of Big Brother when it comes to the Modi government. And the dangers of criticism.

https://thewire.in/media/narendra-modi-amit-shah-media-watch-punya-prasun-bajpai

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While the Editors Guild of India (its current office-bearers are Shekhar Gupta, AK Bhattacharya and Sheela Bhatt) was sadly mealy-mouthed in its attempt to save the Indian media without mentioning names, including the names of those threatening press freedom, the Guild’s statement was welcomingly strong when it came to Bangladesh.

(This is my article on The Wire on the Guild: https://thewire.in/media/editors-guild-media-freedom-modi-government )

Noted photographer Shahidul Alam has been in custody for commenting on the recent street protests in Bangladesh. The crackdown has been severe and unwarranted.

The Guild has issued this comment:

“[4] The Editors Guild of India is also pained and agitated to learn of the detention of Shahidul Alam, eminent photographer and educator, in Dhaka under the provisions of the Information and Communication Technology Act of Bangladesh. The Guild understands that Mr Alam’s detention is arbitrary and unreasonable. Highlighting the peaceful protests by school children and young people in Dhaka against the malpractices in the transport sector, resulting in deaths, is not a crime. The Guild stands behind Mr Alam and demands his immediate and unconditional release from detention.”

Quite right. Would it be unfair to remark that it is easy to name both Alam and Bangladesh, since this has not happened in India?

 

 

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