Ranjona Banerji: Fiction or Fact?

06 Sep,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


My reading obsession, if one can call it that, is what used to be called “murder mysteries” but are now known more pompously as “crime fiction”. And sometimes, these are “police procedurals”, if you would please pardon that annoying term. And since the heroes are the police, the villains or at least annoying mosquitoes who won’t let the noble police do their jobs in peace, are journalists. The irony is that these journalists are irritating precisely because they are doing their job: questioning authority.

So even as you feel for the dear detective chief inspector battling both evil serial killers and nasty reporters, any journalist would feel a twinge of envy at these fictional creatures who spare no effort to embarrass the police and show them up with lurid headlines and vicious conjecture.

And then you have today’s real-life journalists in India. Who believe it is their bounden duty to parrot whatever the government says. Instead of annoying the authorities like pestilential pests, they behave like happy lapdogs gambolling about with glee every time some minister honours them with a selfie. It is almost past cringeworthy now, it happens so often.

For instance, news appeared on Wednesday that foreign journalists are being sent back from Assam over “permit” issues. We already know that the Modi-Shah government is furious with the foreign media for doing their own investigations in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and the subsequent arrests and the information crackdown. Post publication of the NRC list, the situation in Assam is also fragile.


Hardly had this news appeared on social media than the Modi-Shah government’s puppet editors jumped to its defence. No such notification, how dare and so on. Reading through the Scroll story, you find that there are contradictions and confusions. Why not sort those out before launching an all-out defence. But oh no, how can our sweet, compliant pets ever do that?

And in keeping with its tight leash on media control, the Modi-Shah government now plans a media blitzkrieg as this accompanying tweet from CNN-News18 informs us. More articles from government ministers in newspapers and so on. More propaganda would be the normal response, but the breathless excitement of the “news” channels senior staff is palpable.

The question really is, why a high performing government needs a media blitzkrieg at all. Any fictional journalist in my murder mysteries would know the answer to that. Because, Kashmir is a disaster, Assam and the North-East is another potential disaster, the economy is a meta-disaster, and that’s only three problems. If the first term of the Modi government was spent blaming the past for its shortcomings, the first term of the Modi-Shah government it seems will be spent using the media to fool the media.

The level of sycophancy is not just galling, it’s really quite funny in its desperation and ignorance. One senior TV “journalist” was so excited on Twitter that in 2014, according to her. Gujarat “came” to Delhi. How sad for Gujarat that not only is one of its greatest sons and one of the world’s greatest heroes completely forgotten, but so are India’s first Union Home Minister, India’s first Gujarati Prime Minister and indeed, Pakistan’s first Governor General and founder.

Even Wikipedia will tell you this, but why look up the names of MK Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, Morarji Desai and MA Jinnah when you can suck up to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah instead?


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



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