Ranjona Banerji: Why let journalists get away?

14 Aug,2018

By Ranjona Banerji


For all those who continue to make excuses about the lack of pressure on the media today or hark back to the Emergency to justify tactics by the Narendra Modi government to silence criticism, here is well-known cartoonist Satish Acharya on what happened to him. It follows on the heels of Punya Prasun Bajpai’s departure from ABP News. And the story is exactly the same. I typed in “shame” by mistake there but now I wonder if that wasn’t a Freudian slip of some sort!

Acharya writes on his blog page and on Facebook:

“That’s how my cartoon column with Mail Today ended yesterday.
That’s how the editor looked at a cartoon and cartoonist’s opinion.

That’s how the editor chose to shut a voice!

The cartoon he rejected was about how China is surrounding India by spreading influence in countries like Maldives and others. The editor said the cartoon is ‘Very defeatist and the China problem is being overplayed’

I thought it’s how a cartoonist looked at the growing influence of China around Indian interests.
So I said it’s debatable and cartoonist’s opinion should be valued.
And in response, he asked the news desk to drop the cartoon and carry a photo.”

He goes on to say:

“-First they rejected a cartoon showing cow saying ‘The editor is not too happy with the cartoon with cow’

-For a cartoon on lynching I received this message ‘There’s a bit of an issue. India Today Group has decided not to come out with any community based cartoons.’

-For one cartoon on Modi, they asked ‘if I can replace Modi’s character with any general BJP character’

-And then ‘ Editor is not comfortable with Muslim angle in the cartoon’

-And ‘editor didn’t like the demonetisation link with 100% electrification’

-And more of ‘this doesn’t make sense’, ‘this is unacceptable’ etc etc.
(And many of these rejected cartoons were used by other clients and some of them went viral, shared/retweeted by even many journalists)

It was very difficult to do a cartoon, as too many barriers were installed around me.
Out of desperation, I approached many senior journalist friends for feedback. They sympathised with me, some asked me to wait, some asked me to stay strong.”

This is not the first time the India Today group has tried to stifle voices. An editor was made to leave the opinion website DailyO for the great crime of tweeting that media owners need to be pulled up for gross transgressions by their media outlets. And India Today TV and Aaj

Tak are repeat offenders when it comes to questionable journalism.
But more and more, this is becoming the norm. Whether this is self-censorship out of fear or because of diktats from above, editors are now like putty in the hands of government forces.

Some have argued that money is partly the reason. Not bribes but higher salaries and the expectation of a quality of life which follows. Loans, children’s education, these are the reasons why editors no longer have any courage or even any journalistic ethics. This is partly true, but I find it hard to believe that it is the only reason. The bigger problem perhaps is that many “editors” today are career journalists, in for the money and fame and attendant glamour. Therefore, they have less vocation and more desire to get ahead no matter the cost.

However regardless of pop psychology reasoning, the crisis in the Indian media is getting deeper. I balk at using the over-used phrase “truth to power” but we are unable to even mildly question the powers-that-be. And those that do, face the consequences. The editors of Mail Today, like those at ABP News remain silent. What can they say?

In fact, a lot. They can choose to stand up and be counted. They can behave as if an elected government is just that. And that no prime minister or party president has to be worshipped from afar on an altar. Veteran columnist Tavleen Singh, in her Indian Express column last Sunday, argued that since no one questioned any government earlier, why is it reprehensible to not question government now. By this tragic statement, she has reduced her own formidable journalistic career to dust. And in fact, she is wrong.

But that old chestnut of “you didn’t say anything then so why are you saying anything now” has to be buried forever. The only people who say that are those who believe in the toxic and destructive atmosphere in the country today. They are those who are all right with institutions being destroyed, with people being killed, with a majoritarian ideology being stuffed down everyone’s throats, with social and religious divisions being deepened.

It is a shame – and this time I have not mis-typed – that journalists like this get away with it. Why are we letting them?


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


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