Ranjona Banerji: Tamasha and TV Journalism

02 Aug,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Maybe the evening had taken us into a parallel universe where even Rahul Shivshankar of Times Now was unhappy with the BJP? What was going on Thursday night? An extreme optimist, I know there are some of you like that here, would say, oh, things are changing, people have realised, et cetera et cetera.

So how horrific does the situation have to become for “anchors” on Times Now and similar TV channels to behave like journalists? The rape accusation by a young girl against BJP MLA Kailash Sengar in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, is not new. In the two years since she first spoke up, her father has been killed, her family terrorised and Sengar has remained at large. It is only after she, her aunts and her lawyer were in a car struck by a speeding truck, which has killed her family, left her in a coma and her lawyer seriously injured, and the Supreme Court transferred the cases out of UP and came down heavily on the UP police that news television decided that, well, some criticism is perhaps in order.

Am I being unfair in not applauding Times Now for some newsworthy journalism? Am I not appreciating Shivshankar’s bravery in questioning BJP member Sambit Patra extensively? In allowing critics of the way this case was handled to have their say? In allowing other panellists to criticise the BJP?

Okay, clap clap. But while Shivshankar and others were screaming themselves hoarse about the “tukde tukde gang” and “Hindu khatre mein hain”, the Unnao case dragged on and the accused roamed free terrorising the family of the victim and controlling the police. The BJP did nothing to stop him. They had to win elections, you see, and that’s all that matters. Now our intrepid TV “journalists” cannot even tell us for certain whether Sengar was ever suspended, whether he has indeed been expelled from the BJP now. There’s journalism and there’s journalism and there’s TV tamasha.

What was also clear is that the BJP had either not worked out a strategy to deal with this or they had decided to confuse people with different and opposing stands. So Sambit Patra (Times Now, Shivshankar) was full of fake squirming humility like Uriah Heep (the Dickens character, not the rock band). Amit Malviya (Times Now, Navika Kumar), the head of the BJP IT Cell, was sometimes angry with critics, sometimes recalcitrantly “compassionate”, a bit Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And the funniest of all was Shantanu Gupta, “political analyst” which on TV is a euphemism for “fan” (NDTV, Nidhi Razdan). Gupta demonstrated that his favourite movie character is Hannibal Lecter as he bared his fangs and accused Razdan of running some editorial agenda because no one, and I mean no one, is allowed to criticise the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Ajay Singh Bisht. Razdan took none of it but Gupta remained defiantly in mock serial killer mode.

I’ll repeat the case for those who missed it: that a young woman accused a BJP MLA of rape (multiple times) and lies in hospital fighting for her life. The case was taken seriously only when the Supreme Court moved it out of UP.  A fascinating line of defence for a BJP defender to take, one must acknowledge.

Whether Gupta will get his reward from the BJP for his robust championing of rapists and silent chief ministers, I do not know. We do know that in all this trenchant criticism, the hallowed names of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are rarely named. And yet every journalist worth her or his salt knows that these two are the main decision-makers. But you know, do watch Modi frolicking in Corbett with Bear Grylls and Shah is a modern-day Chankaya, so criticism is off the table.

The economy or what’s left of it also got some attention on Mirror Now as Faye D’Souza put forward the sort of questions the common man would ask: where’s the money and what on earth is going on. Her guests held nothing back. As criticism mounts, as the corporate sector slowly and coyly speaks up, it will be interesting to see how far TV journalism can take this. Of course, there’s always the great pride in the fact that the Union Budget was covered in a red cloth.

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On the Hindi news channel News24, a “Hindu leader” Ajay Gautam covered his eyes, so he did not have to see the face of a Muslim news presenter. The channel is upset and won’t invite Gautam again. Bravo. First you invite and regularise toxicity and then you take a stand.

 

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In better news, Ravish Kumar of NDTV has won the Ramon Magsaysay award, a great honour for him and NDTV, which has the courage to continue to air his no-holds-barred, thoughtful, well-considered and well-researched criticism of the authorities.

 

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

 

 

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