Ranjona Banerji: Uninformed, Misinformed, Disinfomed!

26 Nov,2019

By Ranjona Banerji

 

There is plenty of mocking and scoffing on social media on how so many newspapers got their headlines wrong on Maharashtra’s rollercoaster politics. Much as they have to suck it up and take it, all print journalists know that this is the biggest nightmare of an ongoing story. Because of the time strictures of print, you just have to put your journal to bed and hope or pray desperately. And accept that there will be days when you get it horrifically wrong.

A S Panneerselvan, Readers Editor of The Hindu, of whom I am a great admirer, focused his weekly column on this problem and tried to explain the problems involved in his usual reasoned manner.

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/the-difference-between-credit-taking-and-blame-avoidance/article30069778.ece

However, there is a bigger problem and that concerns all journalists. That almost no one had any clue about what was going on in Maharashtra, after the alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena had that spectacular fallout. “Sources” appeared from everywhere and they all had different “inside” stories to share. Overconfidence or genuine total confusion all confounded?

Whatever the reasons, the public was left uninformed, misinformed, disinformed. A primary failure of the tenets of journalism.

There was also a more insidious collapse of journalistic ethics at work. The enormous spin put on the various backroom wheelings and dealings going on by some journalists. In order of the usual sycophantic nonsense: how clever Amit Shah was to engineer the coup of getting Ajit Pawar to break away from his uncle, the clever manipulation of Constitutional propriety to get the Governor of Maharashtra and the President of India to wake up early in the morning, remove President’s Rule and swear in this new government without any show of hands, how Amit Shah as usual is Chanakya, India’s ancient author of our historic text on statecraft. That there was obvious money involved in bribing MLAs was either presented again as the tactical brilliance of the BJP and one more feather in the cap of this, er, honest, incorruptible political party.

The Hindu’s Readers Editor could also have looked at this sort of story and headline in his newspaper, which legitimises the chicanery and shenanigans of the BJP and Ajit Pawar as hard work: “The BJP never gave up”. Never gave up what? The twisting of the Constitution?

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/maharashtra-government-formation-bjp-never-gave-up-kept-back-channels-open/article30063520.ece

And of course, we have the other lot which sidestep the BJP and focus on discrediting all other political parties involved: the Congress took too long, the Shiv Sena is finished in Maharashtra and Sharad Pawar had been outsmarted by his nephew.

The fear therefore to actually call the BJP out for what it is, remains strong for some “journalists”. Let’s not forget that while all this was going on, the Prime Minister of India was in hiding. His monthly ramblings were broadcast on TV and radio and then he was off on his main job: electioneering, this time in Jharkhand.

When the tables appeared to have turned again, one saw these star “journalists” scrambling for cover. Times Now’s Rahul Shivshankar interviewed astrophysicist and TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson for instance.

The facts of the matter got lost in the spin, the basic job of journalists got lost in the din. I’ve reached a stage where I just have to laugh. Forget showing “truth to power”. This form of journalism is about hiding the truth from your basic constituency, your reader and viewer.

Meanwhile, does it bear repeating that Maharashtra aside, we still have a tanking economy, fudged government data on everything from growth to toilet building, Kashmir is still under the iron fist, JNU students are still in distress and the diabolical NRC still rules. All these cannot be ignored and will not go away. No matter how many times poor Chanakya is defamed by comparisons to Amit Shah.

 

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

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