Did the Indian media pass the journalism test with the Ayodhya verdict coverage? (+NewsStand)

11 Nov,2019

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

A senior journalist called on Sunday, shocked that the Indian media was so triumphalist about the Supreme Court decision on Ayodhya. He expected both restraint and objectivity from a profession he had spent his life in. Although he is well aware of the direction the Indian media has taken since 2011, he still expected more from journalism. He discussed the post-Babri Masjid demolition riots in Bombay, in 1992 and 1993 and the impact it made on the city, the nation, our lives.

Television let’s say is a gone case. They have increasingly over the past six years pushed an aggressive Hindu line, have attacked Muslims, Dalits and other religious and social minorities for demanding rights given to us all in the Constitution, some anchors have actively gone out of their way to engender hatred and social division. So who really had expectations from the TV media who toe and encourage the Modi government, BJP and Sangh Parivar lines?

That Rajdeep Sardesai would be “objective” on India Today so that Rahul Kanwal and Gaurav Sawant could carry on with their majoritarian, state-sponsored agenda? That NDTV would try its hardest to be fair without aggravating the vindictive government into attacking it with more cases? I don’t have to name all the channels. You know what they do. May be that’s why you watch them. May be you have no option but to work for them because you have to make a living.

And then, our newspapers. Most of them, especially the language papers, presented front pages that looked like tacky calendar art that made a mockery of Amar Chitra Katha illustrations, like the worst that Ramanand Sagar gave us in his serialisation of the Ramayana. Others carried agency photos of some unkempt men in apparently celebration mode. The Hindus had won was the sentiment and the Muslims better suck it up. Am I being crude? Remember there is a criminal case still ongoing about the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Who are the accused? But of course, it is more than likely that all those VHP, BJP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena worthies will now be acquitted even though we all saw what happened that day in Ayodhya in 1992. And no doubt our TV patriots will rejoice.

The inherent contradictions in the Supreme Court judgment are beyond my understanding of the law. I have searched for explanations and analyses of the judgment and while several outline these contradictions, so far I have not come across a cogent explanation for this judgment. And this is the Indian media’s other failure. Many journalists in their personal capacity have said things like: This chapter has now been closed, so now we can get on with it”. But get on with what? As journalists with even a slight knowledge of history, we should know that “closure” is not as easy as a Hollywood romcom’s tips on how to get over a cheating boyfriend. There are consequences and an aware media would tackle them. The very fact that we have an overwhelming number of newspapers sticking paintings of Lord Ram on their front pages is evidence of media failure when India most needs them.

Even the venerable Hindu has an editorial about the importance of “closure” and that the Supreme Court chose peace over justice.

If this is the argument that even intelligent people accept then what they are saying is that the fear of a backlash from Hindu forces was so strong that the esteemed judges decided to dump principles of justice. What that says about the future of our democracy, the already fragmented social fabric of India and the power of the Constitution is too scary to even think about.

The court had its own reasons. But the Indian media has once against failed a basic journalism test.

 

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

 

 

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