Ranjona Banerji: Balakot and after… what happens next?

26 Feb,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

 

At the time of writing this, we have news that the Indian Air Force entered Pakistan territory and bombed a terrorist camp at Balakot, at around 3.30 on the morning of February 26. Official conformation has not yet been received. This attack has come 12 days after the devastating attack on a CRPF convoy at Pulwama, on February 14.

Better late than never, all Indians might say, fed up with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and death and mayhem.

However, for the Indian media, there will always be not just questions to be asked, but points to note and discuss. Since the Pulwama attack, we have not seen any efforts to engage with the people of Kashmir. In fact, the Supreme Court hearing on Article 35A has roiled the situation on the ground. The attacks on Kashmiris in the rest of India was allowed full rein. And as people discussed retaliation amongst themselves or in high decibels on TV, the government was in its normal electioneering “attack Nehru, Congress, Gandhis and opposition” mode.

So now we separate journalists from publicists. News18 breathlessly tells us that the Prime Minister himself took this decision. Thanks guys, that’s what he’s there for. So, that was a PR spin. Mirror Now is responsible as ever with facts as known at 9.40 am and very sober defence experts. India Today TV’s screen was so full of competing bits of news that my eyes shut down. NDTV was all speculation minus information: this is what a Mirage aircraft looks like, this is what it could have done and so on. Boy’s magazine stuff.

The Wire traces what happened and reactions, for those who have low white noise tolerance:

https://thewire.in/security/india-conducts-air-strikes-across-loc-pakistan-says-payload-released-early

The most difficult question now for journalists and publicists both is: what happens next. You don’t have to be a diehard cynic to know that a war close to an election is suspect. You don’t have to be a diehard cynic to know that war-like situations are often used to their benefit by ruling politicians who fear that the electorate is not as happy with them to give them a full majority. How many journalists are willing to stick their necks out and consider this? The publicists we know will be in their combat gear ready to be embedded in case of a larger conflict.

It’s too early to call. But we’re watching.

**

Meanwhile, let’s look at how journalists/publicists operate from a slightly different but still connected perspective. How far are these “summits” organised by media houses affecting fair and free coverage of the news? As the Economic Times had its major “summit, with the Prime Minister in attendance, the Times of India’s newly launched “fact check” department came out with possibly the worst “fact check” ever. In an attempt to confirm just what the prime minister was doing on February 14, after the Pulwama attack, the “fact check” used the government as its source.

It was only after condemnation on social media that the “fact check” was redone. This was a mealy-mouthed “improvement” and all one learnt is that both the Corbett Tiger Reserve and Discovery Channel said nothing. Instead of saying straight out that these two refused to confirm anything, the “fact check” said it could not “independently verify”. So much for trying to fight fake news.

And of course, soon after the first “fact check”, we had a photo of Narendra Modi and Vineet Jain, MD of Bennett Coleman, smiling toothily at the ET summit.

And here’s News18 breathlessly telling us that it was the Prime Minister himself who took this decision to send the Indian Air Force into Pakistan. Well, that is his job but if we don’t do a little buttering, what happens to our “Rising India” summit, eh?

There’s a tough road ahead. And if India’s top journalists and media houses cannot find out simple things like Modi’s schedule and activities for a few hours, how are we going to trust them to report effectively on a war or an election?

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

 

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: Balakot and after… what happens next?”

  1. venkat says:

    chowkidar has to do his work as per article

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