Ranjona Banerji: Better for a journalist to be an institutional disrupter rather than a political stooge?

23 Apr,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


As a journalist, how do you bring your profile subject closer to your reader or viewer? It’s easy enough – you show them going about their daily lives, doing those “normal” things everyone does. Chatting to their family and friends, cooking, gardening and so on. And nothing creates that verisimilitude effect more than children and pets. The reader or viewer gets drawn into lives of people who are “just like them”.

It is an illusion of course. Did everyone believe all those black white pictures of their favourite film stars from the last century, posing next to a potted plant with a watering can? Or opening an oven wearing a crisp, clean apron? Possibly not, but it was a nice fantasy.

“Normalising” film stars and celebrities is one thing. But what about when you are profiling a politician accused of terrorism or with a known record of disturbing the peace and encouraging sectarian violence? Does or should a different standard apply?

The behaviour of TV anchors with Pragya Thakur, the BJP candidate from Bhopal, on bail in the Malegaon blasts case and under notice from the Election Commission for poll code transgressions, makes one wonder. Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian who loved art, children and dogs. Does that somehow forgive the deaths of six million Jews in concentration camps?

TV anchor Rahul Kanwal of India Today visits Thakur and shares with his viewers her gems of medical knowledge which include stroking a cow’s neck to reduce blood pressure. Kanwal’s colleague Gaurav Sawant had in 2017 breathlessly described how UP’s new chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht’s pet calves came running to him as soon as they saw him at his temple in Gorakhpur.

TV anchor Marya Shakil of CNN News18 informs her followers on Twitter that liberals and such like do not understand the huge support for Thakur in Bhopal. Surprisingly, even a seasoned journalist like Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV travels to meet Thakur but since she cannot speak thanks to the Election Commission or some oath of silence, we are spared more nuggets of wisdom

“Support”, one supposes, is enough to discount charges of terrorism or hate speech or everything else, and also, as long as it suits the political narrative of the media house. There was a time when journalism was about finding out things that a candidate’s publicity machinery would not tell you. Now we just replace or complement the publicity departments of various political parties?

And then there’s Bhupendra Chaubey of CNN News18, the most prominent amongst the group of TV anchors who were unable to comprehend Rahul Gandhi’s response to the Supreme Court of India, based on a contempt petition filed by the BJP’s Meenakshi Lekhi. Gandhi regretted that he had attributed his own slogan, “Chowkidar chor hai” to the apex court, while campaigning. Gandhi did not apologise for the comment alleging the Prime Minister is a thief, which he subsequently repeated. But Chaubey immediately called it a “rap on the knuckle” from the court to Gandhi. Why not just read the whole report of the court proceedings before making a fool of yourself?

Anyone has an answer?


The Chief Justice of India is accused of sexual harassment. He himself holds a special hearing and calls it an attack on the judiciary. Union minister Arun Jaitley writes a most unbelievable blog on the whole issue and calls Scroll.in, The Wire, Caravan and Leaflet, all of whom wrote on this allegation, “institutional disrupters”.

Kalpana Sharma, Readers’ Editor at Scroll.in bears in on this, in the link below:


But here’s a thought: As a journalist, is it not better to be an institutional disrupter rather than a political stooge?


Events in Sri Lanka are horrific, as the death toll rises. Indian journalism once again did not cover itself with glory when it comes to events in the neighbourhood, as it tried to appropriate the pain and make the attacks about India. More on that as more emerges.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post looks at the dangerous aspects of shutting down social media after a national calamity, manmade or natural:


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


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