Ranjona Banerji: Imbalance rules in journalism

02 Apr,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

 

So, what’s the story? Facebook announced on Monday that it had taken down several political activity related pages, ahead of the general elections in India. Forget the April 1 connection, although co-relations are tempting.

The first accounts that emerged, through the news agency ANI apparently (well, duh) were that 687 pages related to the Congress party were taken down. Of course, journalists and the BJP went to town: The Congress was involved in the spread of fake news! And so on!

Here’s the NDTV website, carrying a PTI story:

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/lok-sabha-elections-2019-facebook-removes-687-pages-accounts-linked-to-congresss-it-cell-2015939

But as the day progressed, the story that emerged was quite different. Although 687 pages related to the Congress were removed by Facebook, most of these handled by the Gujarat IT cell of the Congress party, managed to garner only about 20,000 followers. The big loss was to the BJP. Pages with millions of followers were taken down. The number of pages may have been less than those connected to the Congress, but the impact was much more.

Included in the BJP support pages taken down were not just fan pages or outright party-run pages but also “journalistic” efforts including the My Nation Facebook account, owned by BJP MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar and edited by Abhijit Majumder, sibling of Republic TV.

It took the rest of the day for brave journalists to finally comprehend and then share information that the Facebook cleansing was not just about one political party but all of them, including their beloved BJP.

This is Shivam Vij in The Print, digging further:

https://theprint.in/politics/around-200-pro-bjp-pages-removed-in-facebooks-largest-purge-in-india/215498/

And from The Indian Express, sounding balanced:

https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/social/facebook-congress-bjp-pages-removed-ininauthentic-behaviour-lok-sabha-polls-5653772/

Is there any point asking why so few in the media checked in the first instance and just went ahead with this “Congress pages taken down by Facebook” tilt? Anyone with any time spent on social media at all knows that the rightwing is far more active, dangerous and widespread on the internet than anyone else. The way that information is merely tweaked or outright lies are pushed out by the rightwing is already a subject for academic and police investigation.

Once more therefore we see lack of journalistic rigour and fear from our colleagues when it comes to the BJP. This is the price the people of India pay for false “neutrality”. The issue is who is breaking the law now. The fact that someone else broke the law in the past maybe interesting but it is not germane to the current problem.

This also emphasises why we have so many fake news busting websites active in India. Not all are run by journalists but on the whole they do a far better job of separating lie from fact than mainstream, trained and aware journalists. How many times can one use the word “shame” until it loses all meaning? That time has come and gone, one thinks.

As we go further into election season – the first voting date is April 11, which is around the corner – given the current trend, we are unlikely to see any better or even more balanced journalism from many of our colleagues. Inside news says the pressure on many media houses remains intense. High profile Delhi journalists unfortunately remain locked in their bubbles of access and privilege and they control most of the news cycle when it comes to national political news and trends.

Incidentally, while the MyNation website shows that its FB page is down, Facebook itself has a “fan” MyNation page which links to the website. So… one way or another, eh?

 

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

 

 

Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.

Today's Top Stories
Videos