Ranjona Banerji: Is News TV really reliable?

31 May,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


Everywhere I go these days, the question I get asked most frequently is: “how reliable is the media?”. Most people see “the media” as television and television alone. The press is an also-ran and digital platforms alone have not yet reached their full potential.

The older generation retains trust in NDTV as being the most balanced of all our “news” channels. Its anchors remain mainly as true to basic tenets of journalism as possible, given the pressures that all media operates under in these times.

But everywhere it is a fine balance, except perhaps RepublicTV and Times Now. The first is an all-out propaganda channel, so cannot be held to account. What’s the point? The second is one wing of a large group which befools the viewer and reader by carefully pandering to different sections of Indian society through its various media outlets. Not everyone is aware that “Hindu Khatre Mein Hain” Times Now and “We demand accountability” Mirror Now both belong to Bennett Coleman.

CNN-News18 plays the same game but with its star anchors. Some take the largely pro-Hindu and pro-bigotry “Right Stand”, some pretend that they are balanced, some appear to be more balanced than others. Several questions remain about the fact its owned by Mukesh Ambani, which speculation may be fair or unfair, but some minds are naturally suspicious. India Today is largely “balanced” when it comes to basic reporting, but considerably right-leaning and pro-BJP when it comes to its star anchors, even or especially those who appear to be neutral.

The most confusing one of all is Wion. Many find it appealing because it does not follow the same “The Sun has set, let the screaming matches begin” format as the rest. But in that illusion of reasoned discussion, let us remember it is owned by Subhash Chandra who also owns the extremely pro-BJP Zee. Sometimes, the garb slips like recently when an anchor told a foreign journalist that his criticism of Narendra Modi was “unacceptable”.

I am uncertain of the current reach of NewsX anymore and Tiranga TV is too new and has a Congress connection.

But what we can see, and this is not just on television, is a number of journalists pretending that we have not just gone through a five-year Modi term and that India has not been on a downward turn in the Press Freedom Index in those five years. Instead, we have the Indian media in a high state of excitement over Modi’s second term. Every single problem that emerges from a strong focus on “access” journalism is on display today. The biggest names are scared of confrontation in case they do not get invited for a single malt or a Raisina dal or whatever. The result is bye-bye journalism, hello ‘I’m important, ministers call me’.

I did not watch Modi’s swearing-in ceremony for his second term as PM. I have not really watched too many such ceremonies in the past, regardless of party and prime minister. They are a bit tedious. But I do believe that Indian “news” channels need to start a new beat: “Spectacle Reporters”. They don’t have to be journalists, so few of these anchors appear to be journalists anyway. This new job only entails travelling around going gaga-googoo about everything the Modi government does.

Enjoy. Some of us are watching you. Next week, let’s look at the print media.


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



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