Ranjona Banerji: Pliable or not, shoddy journalism for sure

16 Apr,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


When Smita Prakash, editor of ANI, was called “pliable” by Congress president Rahul Gandhi, there was anger amongst journalists. One of their own being characterised as such by a politician. Much less anger of course than there was when journalists were called “presstitutes” or “newstraders” or “bazaar” by several important members of the BJP, from prime minister Narendra Modi to former chief of army staff General VK Singh. Did the Editors Guild issue a statement condemning the prime minister at the time? I cannot remember that. They certainly issued the most mealy-mouthed statement, naming no names, when journalists lost their jobs thanks to pressure from the Modi government and one of the Ambanis. But they did issue a statement in defence of Smita Prakash and rightly so. It is another matter that Prakash is part of the esteemed Editors Guild. Many journalists who died on the job unmourned or unnamed or undefended by the Guild did not have that privilege.

Calling journalists names, especially by politicians, is unacceptable. But so are journalists acting as publicity agents for politicians. And even worse are news agencies that jump to defend the Modi government before even making cursory checks on what they are defending. And that is what ANI did when the news broke that over 150 services veterans had written to the President of India expressing discomfort over the Armed Forces being used in election campaigns.

There has been one party which has used and misused the Armed Forces for electoral gains, more than any other, and that is the BJP. UP chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht who calls himself Yogi Adityanath referred to the Indian Armed Forces as Modi’s Sena, as if it were the prime minister’s private militia, in a campaign speech. The names and faces of Armed Forces personnel including Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman have appeared on BJP campaign- material. And the BJP has consistently equated itself with the glory of the Armed Forces and tried to appropriate the mantle of nationalism exclusively for itself.

When the letter was made public, it did not take long for ANI to try and find a way to defend the government of Narendra Modi from potential embarrassment. The letter was “fake”, not everyone had agreed to sign it, with names of those who had not signed it or wanted to sign it. As PR exercise, this worked initially as a few other journalists jumped in and interviewed the two who claimed that they had not agreed to be part of this exercise.

But if only ANI had waited or done a little due diligence or just worked as journalists instead of spinmasters for the BJP. They might have asked the people who released the letter why these two names were included, they might have asked or looked for evidence. Just to spare themselves some embarrassment and maybe wash off some of that “pliable” tag. Because regardless of the staunch defence from the Editors Guild, ANI is often seen as a BJP mouthpiece within the media.

All the evidence was out there. Admiral Ramdas has revealed the email chain where ACM NC Suri and General Rodrigues gave their assent to the letter.




This is what Lt General ML Naidu had to say about ANI’s false story that he had not agreed to sign the letter:



The Wire has collated the whole sorry incident here:



Pliable or not, I cannot comment. Shoddy journalism I can definitely affirm.

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

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