Can one use the word ‘journalist’ for hagiographers?

29 Nov,2019


By Ranjona Banerji


The doings in Maharashtra have frustrated not just the Bharatiya Janata Party but also journalists who have the BJP beat. These journalists have, after all, spent the last six or seven years building up images of Narendra Modi and lately Amit Shah as veritable supermen, unchallengeable in their enormous store of statecraft and ability.

Even Superman had his kryptonite but let’s not get into comic lore for people who either actually believe the bogus stories of the Bal Narendra or have spent the last six years propagating those lies!

Although there are maps doing the rounds of social media and I saw one in the Times of India yesterday, of how the BJP’s grasp on states has reduced since 2018, there is no need to rejoice that sections of the media have found any courage to stand up to the government. As long as the RSS’s Hindutva propaganda continues to be spread via television and social media – Hindi news channels are major culprits here – the idea that India is a constitutional democracy is getting closer to the shredder.

It is a pity, laughable perhaps, that the journalists who work for these channels do not seem to realise that if the fascist dream they are pushing become a reality, the first lot to lose jobs will be them.

Maharashtra though has shaken the Hindutva tree a bit. Those journalists who informed us that the BJP has working round the clock to save Devendra Fadnavis’s early morning surreptitious swearing in have not now explained how those efforts failed. There is conjecture that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah engineered these late-night events. But there is no confirmation, even from ever-chatty “sources” on how Batman and Robin failed. And we still don’t know the Ajit Pawar story.

Instead, Rahul Kanwal, big cheese at India Today TV, took to Twitter to tell us that he was being abused alike by BJP and Congress trolls and had therefore his channel had done a good job in its abysmal coverage. Kanwal had also “informed” us that Amit Shah had incomparable state craft and that senior unnamed BJP politicians had told him that the “thinking” of Shah and Modi (sorry, it should be Modi and Shah, for now that is) is different from everyone else’s.

Veteran journalist and author Tony Joseph countered Kanwal on Twitter, “That is a self-serving but baseless argument. The strongest criticisms have come from those who are fans of no party, but are outraged by the despicable lows to which most mainstream media has sunk, without spine or spunk to hold the govt of the day accountable to people.”

So who are these journalists accountable to? In any newsrooms, beats are assigned to reporters and often with seniority, political correspondents become experts on any political party they are assigned to. They are therefore expected to have not just institutional knowledge, or invites to cosy single malt dinners, but the inside track and of understanding of the party’s internal wranglings. You will notice that almost all journalists on the BJP beat indulge mainly in hagiography. Not accountable to the reader or viewer then.

Most of the media criticism of the Congress however, as an example, also comes from old Congress hands who have honed their skills on covering the Congress. These are the journalists who remind you that every transgression by the BJP has a parallel in the Congress’s past. They are the ones who therefore set the agenda for the new BJP lot: that you can easily spin myths in praise and deflect all criticism by looking into the past.

To further the point, senior journalist Coomi Kapoor’s column in the Indian Express has spent five-and-a-half years NOT telling us about what happens inside the corridors of government and instead has focused on what happens in non-BJP party headquarters. The corridors of power have been shielded by shining the spotlight on the Opposition.

The events in Maharashtra have shown that as far as journalism is concerned, this strategy has reached its limit. I am certain however that these BJP journalists will continue with the BJP agenda of bringing the Uddhav Thackeray-led government down. But how long can one use the word “journalists” for them?


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



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