Journalism covered by clouds

14 May,2019


By Ranjona Banerji

Where are these elections going? No one knows. There are several ground reports and they don’t match each other. This includes lots of Whatsapp “reports” from the CIA and whatnot, attributed to the BBC for instance, but when you click on the BBC link there is alas no CIA report and indeed no report at all.

Has the general level of gullibility increased?

Let’s have a look at the Prime Minister’s remarkable statement in a TV, er, interview to News Nation. Here, Narendra Modi stated that although experts expressed doubts about the date for the Balakot air strike because of cloudy weather, Modi used his “raw wisdom” and advised them to use the cloud cover to escape radar detection.

Um. This “raw wisdom” was not questioned by the two giggling TV people, who also asked some fabulous questions like “Did you own a purse”. More on the interview later.

So Modi thinks that clouds can fool radar systems. In the other world that we lived in before 2014, one could easily find experts and they would explain whether the PM was right or wrong. But in Lala land, the first story which all journalists must do is collect what other people said about the PM’s remarks on social media. This is first strike journalism. Have done a cursory Twitter search, then someone in the newsroom might push itself to do this story:

Meanwhile TV operated on its own imperatives and found Indian Air Force experts who were loth to correct the PM but made it as clear as mud that he was maybe perhaps somewhat wrong. At least to be fair they showed more gumption than the two people who actually “interviewed” Modi.

The BJP’s IT cell tweeted Modi’s statement with pride and then deleted their tweets. What does that signify for all his “defenders”?

Then there was the other claim from Modi that he used email and digital cameras in 1988, before both were really available for public use. No one questioned him further on this either. I really want to be rude about television “journalists” but come on! There was a pre-digital, pre-internet world and it wasn’t that long ago and if you guys don’t know about it, please read up now!

Or read this, at least.

The worst about this News Nation interview (as if the PM’s outrageous claims being uncontested was not bad enough) was that there was a script. And the script was caught by TV cameras.

What this interview and its aftermath demonstrates as far as this column is concerned is the further degradation of Indian journalism. If the BJP returns to power again, we might as well pack up and change careers if we can collapse so willingly when faced with what Modi’s interview, which is actually journalistic gold. Or, if the BJP does not return, are we to assume that some of these “journalists” will get back to working and holding to truth to power?

Every answer only underlines how far we have fallen in the last five years. The increasing destruction that was evident in newsrooms when I quit my final job in 2010 has been borne out since 2014.

In this nuanced, well-considered piece in the Indian Express Nirupama Subramanian writes on how Rajiv Gandhi was questioned on his holiday in the Lakshwadeep islands 30 years ago. But the task before today’s journalists is to question today’s leaders. As we have seen, the big questions for Modi are: “Do you own a purse”.

Take a look at the economy, people, and why not ask the general public how their purses are doing?


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

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