Questions for all of us in media…

24 May,2019

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The enormous win for Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, after yesterday’s results, raise some questions for all of us in the media. There is the obvious question: how did some in the non-BJP inclined media get it so wrong? How did they mis-read, once again, the “wave” for Modi? Why did they concentrate on the failing economy, on farmers’ distress, on lynchings, on the destruction of democratic institutions, on the local attraction of regional leaders, instead of focusing only on two men and their long-term strategy? How did they miss the change in the character of the Indian voter from Gandhi to Godse, if we want to be dramatic and tokenist?

And then, there is the question for the other section of the media: why did they ignore the failing economy, farmers’ distress, lynchings, the destruction of democratic institutions and concentrate mainly on the glory of the Modi and Amit Shah, while neglecting to fully cover and analyse their long-term strategy?

There’s an in-between question too. About those in the media who were stuck in the Congress past and in the past of other movements and parties and therefore could not see the change on the ground. There is a churning going on and this in-between section of the media did not see it. The first section did, but was too frightened by its implications. The second section did but was so caught up in the glory of the BJP that they didn’t study it.

And then, for the media on the whole, there is a growing problem with the way the media functions: out of date and out of sync with current technology. The Indian media has been consistently overwhelmed by fake news in the past five years and will continue to be so, as long as it remains full of its own hubris. In contemporary parlance, fake news busters are still outliers. They operate on the edges, doing excellent and commendable jobs, doing the work of journalists.

The mainstream media is therefore conceding ground on two levels. To the fake news busters, who are thorough and professional. And to the fake news purveyors, some of whom masquerade as news sites. That the Election Commission of India should use a non-news, non-journalistic, BJP propaganda website Opindia.com to bolster its position on EVMs shows far insidious the reach of non-news and fake news sites have become. And how the mainstream media is being replaced.

The biggest challenge however remains on the need and purpose of journalism. If you do not hold all politicians and all governments accountable, then you might as well shut shop. The past five years have seen many in the in-between section of the media live in the past and concentrate more on the Opposition than on the government. However much hope one puts in the Opposition, the primary focus must remain those in power. Regardless of the party.

Certainly, the failure of several Opposition parties and strategies must be analysed. They had a role to play in this huge win for Modi, Shah and the BJP. But after we’ve gone through the split of the vote, the warring factions, the swings and arrows, then what? More newsgathering, not less. More scrutiny of everyone, not less.

The biggest challenge therefore is for the bulk of the media. The trivialising, hero-worshipping media. The media that focused more on terror-accused and now MP Pragya Thakur’s venomous allegations and absurd claims about cancer cures. That media needs to hunker down and get to work. Large promises were made five years ago by the same man. None were kept. Are we going to succumb to the temporary lure of waves of popularity or insist some actual accountability from our political classes?

If we are to stay a democracy, there is actually no choice.

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

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