Ranjona Banerji: Damn the messenger when in a spot!

08 Mar,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


It’s a good phrase: “judgment call”. Any working person makes it every day. Sometimes, when the rules do not match what’s happening in front of you, you have to make a “judgment call”. Under pressures of time and space, you have to make a “judgment call”. In times of battle more often than not, everything is a “judgment call”.

And what a great excuse this is not to report fully, thoroughly and excoriatingly on the unbelievable, unacceptable submission made by the Attorney General of India to the Supreme Court of India, that important documents pertaining to Prime Minister Modi’s Rafale deal have been stolen from the Ministry of Defence?

The government’s intention is to blame the messenger, specifically petitioners Yashwant Sinha, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav as well as The Hindu and N Ram for its superb exposes of the inconsistencies and in-fighting over the deal and the lies told by government. The AG threatened using the Official Secrets Act. The Government tried its best to focus on the fact that news reports were based on “stolen” documents, conveniently ignoring the fact that documents were stolen from a government office. It is a preposterous attempt to cover up the details of the deal made by Modi and it is preposterous that the media appears to be buying into it.

The government is of course using the current stand off with Pakistan to deflect attention from the case in the Supreme Court, invoking the basest sort of “patriotism”. And most of the mainstream media which loves nothing more than a good war and the idea of martyrdom and enmity to up rating points is more than happy to play along.

And then there is the other problem of how to respond when the media is targeted by Government. We know how that story plays out. It takes ages for most organisations to say anything in solidarity, especially where criticising this government is concerned, and that too after much prompting. The end result will be a mealy-mouthed statement, not mentioning much at all. So far only a few media bodies have responded.


The only time when these organisations are prompt are when the Opposition says something about a journalist, like in the case of Rahul Gandhi’s comment that Modi spoke to a “pliable” journalist, referring to Smita Prakash of ANI. The “outrage” then was much faster than after the murder of Gauri Lankesh, or the physical intimidation of several journalists in Chhatisgarh or the murder of journalists by various local mining mafias.

But “pliable” most of us have undeniably been, and this has never been better underscored than now. The government is practically using the oldest ploys in the book to avoid being questioned. And is that why our embedded colleagues have presented the story from the Opposition’s point of view or just as an anodyne report? As a very senior editor pointed out to me, most Delhi-based journalists and media houses are terrified of losing access and friendship, which is why the most criticism has come from Chennai or Calcutta.

What does this say about our profession? What good stories are you going to get from “sources” if you won’t print or broadcast stories which don’t the current government in a good light?

I must make it clear here that I am not talking about editorials or comment piece. I am talking about reportage. And all one can say is: no judgment, bad calls.

If this “stolen” documents excuse was not reprehensible enough, there’s this fire, which follows other fires where Nirav Modi’s financial finagling details were lost. How many TV investigations are we going to see on this?



And in answer to the AG, here’s this cartoon from KP Unny of The Indian Express. The last bastion, our cartoonists.


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: Damn the messenger when in a spot!”

  1. Bhavin says:

    I thought this website was all about Media & Marketing (M&M). The author here is all about bashing the current government at every opportunity. Could you please throw some light on what your articles have to do with M&M? No other columnist writes about anything else than M&M.

    If this site is NOT just about M&M, do let the me know, so that I can decide whether to continue subscribing or not, because I am here only for Media & Marketing, Nothing Else..