No newsbreaks for lapdog media

06 Aug,2019

Screen grab from Rajya Sabha TV’s YouTube feed

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

So there we were yesterday, with Amit Shah, Union Home Minister having made this massive announcement, and the television media tiptoeing around the whole thing. Maybe some were a bit shocked, maybe some were unaware of the nitty-gritties, maybe some were overjoyed that their masters had got closer to the RSS dream of ‘Akhand Bharat’.

But two things were immediately on display: ignorance and unpreparedness. It is the job of journalists to tell us what is about to happen, to use those “sources” that TV journalists are so keen to bandy about to the world. Instead, as a security build-up began in Jammu and Kashmir, as opposition leaders were put under house arrest, and the murmur grew about what was happening, our brave friends on the government beat just repeated whatever the official releases put out.

I know my friends in Public Relations get upset when I describe such journalists as “PR” people, because I undermine the hard work that PR professionals do. So, let’s call them “publicity agents”, hired by some media house to work for the government. The government itself has its own publicity machinery but why should it say no to a lapdog service available for free, or that demands at most a selfie as payment?

The abrogation of Article 370 and the separation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories of Ladakh and J&K were surprised upon India on Monday morning. The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu informed the house that an important bill was on its way. Shah however announced the changes as fait accompli before the bill was brought forward and soon we heard there was a presidential notification which meant that Shah’s announcement had immediate effect.

If we are to remain a democracy, we need a media which is up in arms. But of course, we have this publicity machine of happy well-fed puppies. They could try, as “professionals”, beg for some info as they sit up and beg for dog bikkis. Trifurcation announcement on August 15, we were told. War was hinted at, but not this. Like the horror of demonetisation was a “secret” unleashed on us by Narendra Modi, this Constitutional crisis is Shah’s “gift”.

Full kudos then to the Network of Women in Media (India) for the prompt issue of this statement by Monday evening:

http://www.nwmindia.org/component/k2/nwmi-condemns-scrapping-of-article-370

The statement among other things says:

“The lack of honesty and transparency that preceded the move, along with the circumvention of democratic process are ominous for the survival of democracy and consequently for the right to freedom of expression, the right to information and for media freedom itself.”

 

It is precisely these issues which journalists must be concerned about. The government has used underhand and oppressive means to get its way, in spite of its massive majority and mandate. Regardless of how we feel, it is our job to ask questions.

 

But as television scrambled all night to find expert voices, the people of India were left stuck. Not to mention the people of Kashmir, who had no clue what was going on. Even if you agree with the abrogation of the Article, you need to ask why it was done in this manner, why India was lied to about a terror threat to the Amarnath Yatra, why the Bill could not have been debated openly and by the people of Kashmir whom it affects the most.

 

Again, it is the print and web media which has stuck its neck out and asked the hard questions. They have also provided some answers in what is a very confused, nay dangerous, scenario. We are in a Constitutional crisis, whichever way you look at it. We have almost no Opposition. If the media doesn’t hold up the mirror, well, the 49 people who dared to write a letter to the Prime Minister to stop mob lynchings, have been slapped with sedition cases. That’s India.

 

How do you think the media is going to fare in the future? Hah!

 

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

 

 

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