Ranjona Banerji: Local news can also be interesting!

11 Jan,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


As we get closer to election time, the political atmosphere in India is ramped up and charged. Oh well, what a load of clichés. What is happening is this: The North East is in a state of turmoil over the Citizenship Bill, the bulk of the mainstream media is mainly bothered about what’s happening in and around Delhi, Narendra Modi’s Rafale deal continues to raise tough questions which receive no answers, India’s farmers are still angry and desperate, the economy remains a mess, a new “quota” for the economically backward among the upper castes seems like a confused desperate political vote-catching measure and yes, there’s the mess that is the CBI.

Not all of this though is always headline stuff. Sabarimala and the CBI get more coverage than the North East (in general). The Rafale deal gets some coverage but not by everybody. The farmers get occasional spotlights thrown on them. The economy is “specialist” stuff reserved for commentators and the business pages. And no one has quite understood the upper caste quota yet. Although it was amusing to watch a BJP spokie tell Yogendra Yadav on TV the other night that posters put up by the BJP’s Haryana wing don’t have much to do with the government. Good to know.


As an experiment, I posted two articles about the BJP’s changing stand on infiltration and the protests over the Citizenship Bill on Twitter this morning. Both have been largely ignored. Tweets about Sabarimala and the removal of the CBI chief have got immediate responses. I did not even know that Mumbai’s BEST bus service was on strike until a friend told me.






Between “curated” and “personalised’ news on social and digital media and localised news in newspapers, we have indeed created those silos where we might has well be millions of miles apart as much as we have ostensibly moved closer together.

And then there’s television, which most people continue to identify as “the media”. Even journalists now complain that “the media” has not covered X or Y and what they mean is that no TV camera showed up.

But local news can also be interesting! A few stories from Uttarakhand need some national attention. The first is about a veterinarian who practised black magic on an elephant in the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. Makes you wonder what vets are taught and how they are selected!



Another is Sunderal Bahuguna’s 92th birthday. One of India’s environmental pioneers needs a little more attention than he has received recently.


The third is about author, novelist and commentator Nayantara Sahgal’s invitation to speak at the All India Marathi meet was withdrawn. This has got some coverage, but it has not been taken as seriously in the overall context of what is happening in this country as it should have been.



Here is the full text of the speech she would have given, from scroll.in, and also a column from columnist Salil Tripathi.



Regardless of the “patriotic” melodrama of some of our non-journalistic TV news channels, the threat to free speech in India continues. Nayantara Sahgal had flagged this off soon after the Modi government came to power. And she’s still paying the price for that. This affects us greatly much as we like to pretend it doesn’t.


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

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