Ranjona Banerji: Do we journalists have to be this stupid?

22 Mar,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


At the best of times, us journalists are shallow people. It is the nature of the job. We skim the surface and console ourselves that we are the “first draft of history”. We report and comment on events as they happen and frankly who has the time to delve deeply into causes, effects, historical reasoning and socio-cultural changes. That is what academics are for and long may their tribe prosper.

However, even as fickle-minded journalists who flit from story to story, do we not have a larger duty to do even that properly? Must we perpetually get stuck in the faff and be unable to see even a few centimetres below the pond scum? Here we are in election season. And a fairly important election at that. And almost all one hears from our hard-working journalists is a choreographed response to political movements. Some are so used to dancing to other people’s tunes that they don’t even feel the strings controlling them any more.

So we have journalists trying to push cinema that helps the incumbent government, we have journalists analysing this cinema that helps the incumbent government, we have the incumbent government pandering to these journalists and their fan-like adoration of fan cinema. That’s one part of it. This is so nauseating that you find daft clickbait headlines like “Why didn’t X star pick up her child from school at 3.25 pm like she does everyday” more interesting.

Then you have journalists endlessly speculating on Opposition tactics. Is X tie-up with Y going to create a 0.7035 swing of the people who live in pink houses away from C candidate and such mind-numbing conversations. The “general advice for everyone from my fancy office” ones are even better: “If D aligns with Z here they can jinx W” or “Why doesn’t M ever listen to my advice?”.

While they do all this fulminating over Opposition tactics, the incumbent government has given the ruling party an extra 2 acres of land in the national capital, it has allowed mining in precious forests, it has carried on with its usual tactics of bypassing Election Commission rules, it has taken credit for some investigative work done by a British newspaper. Basically, the government has been given free rein (or reign) by our brave journalists who are so much more excited about a fictionalised cinematic account of an old battle. (Aside: that is apparently a much better way of finding out how the Armed Forces feel than actually asking them.)

Of course, it is also patently unfair for most journalists look at job data, since it all looks so bad for the incumbent government. It is patently unfair to examine how minorities and lower castes continue to be targeted either by the ruling party or government policy. And it is very important to completely ignore any news of corruption by anyone who belongs to the ruling party. Therefore, a CAG report which was vital to unseat T then, must be completely dismissed when a similar report appears about P now. It’s all about the party. Not those parties, this one.

Do we have to be this stupid? Let’s see how this election unfolds and then we’ll know.


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

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