Ranjona Banerji: Shameless Cowardice in Times of Strife

23 Aug,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


After Lancet, the British Medical Journal has also written about the health effects of the government’s actions in Kashmir. This other respected medical journal has based its comment on a letter it has received from 18 doctors across India. The letter said that the government lockdown is a “grim” situation and has led to “blatant denial of the right to healthcare”.

Having shot off an ill-conceived letter of outrage to Lancet for “interfering” in India’s internal matters, the Indian Medical Association now appears to be silent on the letter written by 19 Indian doctors. The issue is that of fake “nationalism” over the Hippocratic oath or even over humanitarian concerns, if you find the Hippocratic oath hypocritical and more honoured in the breach.

Now, more doctors have issued a statement expressing concern about the health situation in Kashmir, questioning the IMA and asking for their peers to form a group, interact with the government and visit Kashmir to help with healthcare needs.

In a normal world that is how one would expect people, doctors, the media to respond to a crisis. The IMA not only attacked the Lancet’s right as a journal to publish an opinion backed by facts but also ignored its own responsibility. Now that other doctors and journals have entered the fray, radio silence.

However, perhaps given the current climate, one cannot blame the IMA for its cowardice. Over the past five years there have been any number of reports across the media of extreme government pressure to stop all criticism of Government. Prominent TV journalists from ABP News openly spoke about it and lost their jobs. Media houses like The Hindu and Bennett Coleman have been denied government ads. Now one hears that Mirror Now has also been threatened for criticism of the BJP-led Maharashtra government.

The threat goes further as does the impact on the media and the running of it. The persecution of NDTV owners Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy continues and now TV journalist Vikram Chandra has also been targeted. The collapse of the Indian economy – and it has collapsed even if media attention is being deflected by sharp news management by the Modi-Shah government and the BJP – has badly affected all aspects of the Indian media, from news to advertising to branding and marketing.

Job losses, not being acknowledged by the government or reported widely across the media, are rampant within the media. News yesterday says DailyO, the opinion website launched by India Today, is shutting down. This is just the latest in a long list from NDTV to the ABP Group. There is no money, payments are delayed, running costs are in trouble, it’s that bad. In such a precarious financial situation, one is likely to see more capitulation before an authoritarian government rather than less.

Of the many crises facing India today, Kashmir has been a touchstone for bad and irresponsible reporting and coverage by large swathes of the Indian media. And underlying that, is a bigger perfidy to the media mandate to share information with the general public. And that is the collapsing economy. Which affects everyone. Every news programme you see about the “tukde gang” or attacking some student leader or crucifying anyone who criticises the Modi-Shah government is a deflection, most likely ordered from the top, from discussions on impending disaster.

Any news agency which tells you about the horror that was demonetisation, about job losses, about falling demand, about industry slowdowns, those are from journalists and their bosses who have immense courage in these difficult times. The rest are a bit like the IMA: showing shameless cowardice in times of strife.

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


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