Ranjona Banerji: Loyalty, Faithfulness & Sycophancy UnLtd

24 Dec,2018

By Ranjona Banerji

 

What a different end to 2018 from where we started. Then, most of the media remained in thrall of Narendra Modi and the BJP. Both were unstoppable we were told. And Rahul Gandhi was still “Pappu” and the opposition were just a bunch of clowns and Amit Shah was the cleverest Indian since Kautilya.

And where are we now? The electorate of India appears to have changed its mind a bit regarding Kautilya & Co, but, but, but, it is heartening that loyalty, faithfulness and sycophancy are still strong in sections of the Indian media. The Right Stand on News18 continues with its division of India along religious and caste lines. Times Now and Republic TV more or less remain where they are, in a self-style pro-BJP stance but for Times Now at least some small fraying at the edges. India Today TV still finds refuge in the Armed Forces and “nationalism” when it wants to avoid criticising the government. And even on NDTV, one will often find at least two spokespersons representing the BJP and the government compared to one for everyone else, regardless of the topic of discussion.

At all these channels one must point out the strong difference between the news anchors who are far more “loyal” to government forces and TV reporters who are far better at doing their job.

There are some significant changes though. Regardless of whatever happened with ABP News and the giving in to government pressure, The Telegraph remains the top newspaper as far as directly taking on the Centre and Narendra Modi. The latest “Snoopendra” front page was one of the best recently, in a long line of bests.

It was a pleasure however to watch Faye D’Souza on Sunday night discussing the just-passed and ill-considered surrogacy bill. Of course, it was true that the entire panel – doctors, lawyers, activists and even the BJP spokesperson – was opposed to the bill in its current format. After many aeons, one actually felt sorry for the BJP spokesperson who looked a bit like a deer caught in headlights. Teena Sharma was also very honest, another first. She said she did not approve of the bill but she was sure there was some thinking behind it.

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However, the biggest media moment of 2018 was undoubtedly the #MeToo movement. After generations of silence, women in the media finally spoke out about years of sexual harassment and abuse at the workplace. For the media itself, it started with a series of tweets by former colleague Sandhya Menon and then snowballed into a massive movement which has outed and ousted senior editors and one Union minister.

The biggest catch was definitely MJ Akbar, once one of India’s most celebrated journalists and high-profile editors. Senior journalist Priya Ramani named Akbar and then the dam broke. Several women came out with their accusations of harassment, abuse and even rape. Ultimately, Akbar who was defiant initially, had to resign as minister. However, he has filed a case of criminal defamation against Ramani, while side-stepping the more serious charged made by other women journalists.

Many media houses responded promptly to complains and accusations made by their female staff; some have remained slow or chosen not to listen. But the movement has busted a few myths in the media. The first and foremost being that the Indian media is on the whole less sexist and misogynistic than other sectors. Sadly, although there are many more female faces than before and many women in positions of power in newsrooms, patriarchy and entitlement remain rampant among the men.

The lessons are still being adjusted and learnt. But at least #MeToo has shown us that silence is not an option any more.

 

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

 

 

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