Ranjona Banerji: Spare me your outrage over “pliable”…

04 Jan,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


The Editors Guild released a statement on January 3, hours after Smita Prakash, editor of the news agency ANI, was called a “pliable journalist” by Congress President Rahul Gandhi. The Guild statement took offence to Gandhi’s remark – which was in reference to an interview with Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, where as usual, he was neither asked nor answered any tough questions.

It reads, “…labelling of journalists has emerged as a favourite tactic on the part of the establishment to discredit, delegitimise and intimidate them”. Strong words. The statement goes on to mention that this behaviour is part of a pattern and the AAP and BJP (in that order, please note, the first a new party that is in power only in Delhi and the second in power at the Centre and across several states) has in the past used words like “presstitute”, “newstrader”, “bazaru” and so on against journalists.

No context, no courage, as ever.

I take you back to when journalists Punya Parsun Bajpai and Abhisar Sharma were either sacked or forced to leave ABP News for criticising the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi), in August last year. In its statement, issued after much pressure, the Editors Guild could not bring itself to name either ABP News or the government (Centre, BJP) which had supposedly applied pressure on the news channel. But when it comes to Prakash/ANI and Gandhi, wow, bravery in spades.

There has been no statement till date by the Editors Guild on the arrest and detention of Kishorechandra Wangkhem of Manipur, for calling the Manipur CM (N Biren Sinhh, BJP) a puppet of the Prime Minister (Modi, BJP). (Other journalists’ associations like NWM have issued strong statements.) But the use of the word “pliable” by Rahul Gandhi and the Editors Guild is so upset that it rushes to issue a statement about the “intimidation” of journalists.

Thanks but no thanks for this grand effort to save us from Opposition parties when you say nothing about the ruling dispensation.

One can only infer that Prakash is powerful and important in New Delhi and has friends in all the right places.

Incidentally, there were no statements issued about “newstrader” (the PM) or “pressititute” (former army chief and Union minister”. But “pliable”: the end of civilisation as we know it.

I have to confess I did not watch the interview. There is no expectation of Modi being asked or answered tough questions from anyone, let alone “friendly” news agencies. The fact remains that the Prime Minister of India, even at the fag end of his term, is unable to answer questions from all journalists. The last tough press conference questions one can remember are from an early visit to the UK, when then UK prime minister David Cameron had to step in to save him. It was that long ago.

And as we saw recently, Modi could not even answer a question from his own party worker from Puducherry at a party event. Pliable is a kind word, even if you feel Gandhi should not have said it, given his family history and so on. But when LK Advani said, “when the media was asked to bend, it crawled”, we accepted that as a fair indictment of the media at the time, even though some in the media had questioned and fought against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. So why are we so scared to accept criticism now? In which media universe do Times Now and Republic TV qualify as journalism? Not to mention Modi’s PR effort through ANI and Prakash?


Having written all this, we must accept that there are bigger fish to fry as far as the media is concerned and far bigger transgressions by us. The Rafale deal and all its ramifications, the refusal of Modi to answer questions in Parliament directly affect our democracy far more than Prakash’s hurt pride. The violence in Kerala over women going to the Sabarimala temple, in accordance with the Supreme Court judgment. And the late arrival of the national media at the Meghalaya mine tragedy should make us hang our collective heads in shame.

So spare me your outrage over “pliable”. Just try and show the rest of us that you are not.


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

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