Ranjona Banerji: Journalism or Melodrama

21 Jun,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

Executive editor India Today and Aaj Tak anchor Anjana Om Kashyap has been severely criticised by many, including journalists, for landing up in an ICU at the Shri Krishna Medical College hospital in Muzaffarpur, Bihar to do a story on the deaths of children due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome. Kashyap as I understand it, is known for her aggressive style of questioning, mainly of those in opposition to the BJP. In this case however, she harangued doctors who were running around trying to treat patients.

The video clips look like a normal day in what passes for television news in India: an anchor whipping an issue up into a frenzy, getting aggressive with the easiest targets and pretending that this was some form of journalism. Viewers learn almost nothing but are excited at being part of a huge tamasha. What happened in the ICU was just a little different because it wasn’t a TV studio with yelling guests. Instead it was real life, with people, presumably, trying to do some actual work.

The fact that over 100 children have died in Bihar apparently due to AES, definitely calls for extensive media coverage. The how and why is another matter. I would argue that Kashyap practised journalism as she understood it: attack and “expose” without either due diligence or reporting or investigation or information. And surely you have to admire her gumption and great knowledge of hospital protocol, being able to burst into an ICU where supposedly unauthorised people are disallowed, with a camera and mike. Actually, heh, someone at the hospital either let her in or didn’t know how to get her out.

The problem is not Kashyap. It is that this sort of “journalism” has become the norm. It is not the remit of journalists to be nice and sweet and polite. Let us get off our collective high horses here, especially those of us in print. It is the job of journalists to expose unpleasant facts. It’s just that Kashyap went about this the wrong way because possibly she knows no other way. And she is just one in a long list of journalists who have not honed their craft vis-à-vis information-gathering and investigation but instead, vis-a-vis creating a spectacle for the viewer. And she certainly achieved that.

Sadly, this drama by Aaj Tak only made Kashyap more famous or infamous than she already is and did not really tell the viewer anything that she or he did not already know. That hospitals are struggling to deal with this crisis and are short on staff and equipment and that medical staff are stretched to the limit. As far as shedding new light on the AES tragedy in Bihar, we have had to rely on everyone else from the medical journal Lancet to various other print publications and news sites.

Has Aaj Tak done any follow ups on the plight of health care in India, getting down to the bone? Any secret insider filming of how badly equipped the public health care system is in terms of infrastructure, money, talent, equipment, supplies, medicines? Has Aaj Tak tackled the issue of malnutrition in children which is part of the cause for this litchi-caused AES? Has Aaj Tak exposed government schemes which have not reached those at the bottom of the pyramid? Has Aaj Tak interrogated any government ministers and officials about these deaths?

If even one of these stories has been done, then you know that Aaj Tak is interested in journalism. If not, then it’s just one more melodramatic day in the life of Indian television. Which is, apparently, the way their viewers like it.




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



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