Ranjona Banerji: State of journalism in India has sunk…

31 Aug,2018

By Ranjona Banerji


The arrests of various lawyers and civil rights activists across India were obviously applauded by our “nationalist” “news” channels like Republic TV and NewsX. Republic TV tweeted a photo of the Chief Guardian of Narendra Modi and The BJP (sorry Zee News and Sudhir Chaudhary) Arnab Goswami and asked the question which is tearing India apart right now: Nationalists versus Maoists.

The police arrested these people apparently because of an assassination plot against Modi. This “letter” however disappeared by the time the case reached the Supreme Court. Being considerate PR agencies for the police, several news outlets also allowed the letter to be forgotten. According to a statement condemning the arrests from the Network of Women in Media, the police waited until cameras from Republic TV arrived before lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj was taken to court. Republic TV has targeted her earlier as well.

The state of journalism in India has sunk; that we already know. How much further it can go is a matter that ought to affect us greatly but some of us are quite happy to go with the flow. The Maharashtra Police has a track record of sidestepping evidence when it comes to so-called Maoists and include without any compunction anyone who speaks for human rights. The law used by the Pune police is a UPA law, misused by the Congress government in Maharashtra earlier and being misused now. The UAPA replaced TADA and suits most political parties, especially those who like to have public enemies. Therefore it is worth noting that the law is being used today by the BJP government which claims it is implacably opposed to everything Congress.

Several civil rights organisations have condemned the arrests. Here is a finely worded statement from the Network of Women in Media:

“Desist from Malicious Media Trials”: NWMI

As it happened, this was a big week for stories. These arrests, on flimsy grounds, were accompanied by harassment of family members of those arrested. Luckily many news outlets have carried stories about how people were lectured by the police about reading too many books, not wearing “sindoor” and having photos D BA Ambedkar on their walls instead of gods and goddesses. Books and Dr Ambedkar was apparently anti-national in some new police manuals. It was good to hear that some tired old police commissioners from Mumbai, with dodgy track records, had their say on TV, to further spread their ignorance and prejudice. Why do any homework as a “guest coordinator” when you can pick any person at random?

The term “Urban Naxal”, apparently coined by some pro-BJP film-maker in that pro-BJP “news” site Swarajya last year, sort of backfired on him on Twitter. Vivek Agnihotri asked someone to make a list of Urban Naxals because “let’s see where it leads”. Twitter did not take kindly to this threat and this is what happened:


But the other big story of the day was the Reserve Bank of India releasing the final count of returned notes after the Modi government’s disastrous demonetisation move on November 8, 2016. It was damning: 99.3 per cent of all the demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were returned to banks. That is, a mere Rs 10,000 crore was not returned to the system, belying the tall claims made by Modi and his team and fans that anywhere between Rs 2 lakh crore and Rs 5 lakh crore.

This was the big story because the main reason for demonetisation was to flush black money. I was happy to see CNN News18 very worried about rising VIP culture in India after the Madras High Court asked for VIP lines at toll plazas. Surely, a burning subject. I understand all editors make judgment calls and it is their right to decide on the news of the day or night. So, kudos.

Meanwhile, black money remains, counterfeit currency has gone up, cash savings have gone up, terrorism has not stopped, digitisation is still at a snail’s pace, the tax net has widened slightly – all those reasons for demonetisation – and people went through hell in those months after November 2016. Will be interesting to see how many patriotic news outlets go back to the misery of those days. Am not holding my breath.


Just a few days after the Times of India announced its campaign against fake news, I came across this article on the TOI website which was headlined “divine words can defeat diabetes”. Clickbait or truth? The article did not explain exactly how this miracle happens, was dangerously half-baked and incomplete, whether by design or by newsdesk. Maybe this campaign needs a bit more rigour within?



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


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