Ranjona Banerji: Are we moving away from being fascist enablers yet?

27 Dec,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


Whatever moral high horse you sit on, you cannot deny as part of the media, that we as journalists at times, not always, not as a rule, and hopefully very occasionally, take shortcuts. Make up quotes, make up people, plagiarise, create composites quotes and people, lift a bit from someone else’s work without attribution.

The tragedy for wrongdoers is that the medium magnifies the mistake or the crime. So what you can get away with in print, on television becomes a massive transgression. The tragedy for the Indian media is that we almost never take any action against transgressors. Whereas in other countries, you would lose your job, in India everything is brushed under the carpet, more often than not.

NewsX, not the nation’s most popular news channel, but it has had its moments, found itself on the wrong side of history the other night. Some of the students on a “debate” over the CAA-NRC protests turned out to be NewsX journalists. Now that is faking it to a grand degree. It shows not just stupidity and immense cynicism about the visibility of your own channel but a complete disregard for the intelligence of any viewers you might still have.

NewsX posed its journalists as students during a debate on anti-CAA protests


But journalism in India is doing much worse at the moment, as it supports and spurs on the fascist and divisive forces running the nation. thepolisproject.com has carried this chilling account of how journalism over the years and here in India has supported genocide, with examples from Nazi Germany and Rwanda, and the terrible consequences of media escalation or patently false information spread to create violence. Fake news is not just about internet manipulators and political party cells. The mainstream media cannot look away and pretend they have nothing to do with it. You might think that I exaggerate, but you only have to read this analysis by Suchitra Vijayan to realise how low some of the media in India has sunk.

Journalism as Genocide


It is clear however that the nationwide reactions to the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens has thrown the ruling BJP off-kilter. After almost six years of a clear support run, no matter how much pain, hardship and damage the Centre, the BJP-ruled states and the Sangh Parivar mindset threw at India, our “rulers” are seeing a sustained pushback for the first time. The young people of country have put us to shame and exposed everyone who was not standing up for democracy, for the Constitution, for the idea of India.

Are there changes from within the media? Have enough people woken up? Those who don’t will find themselves on the wrong side of history. No matter how much you beat the “objectivity” drum, equating police brutality and murder with compassion for a burnt bus just makes you a fascist sympathiser. And some of our best-known journalists and commentators have attempted to walk down this road.

This edit from The Times of India perhaps demonstrates how the winds are shifting. Not wholly, not in full measure, not even substantially, but very slightly:

“BJP looks out on a limb with this one, as it finds it difficult to convince even its allies, let alone the opposition, that all these enumeration exercises in conjunction with CAA will do more good than harm. Akali Dal now wants Muslim refugees also included in CAA after supporting the legislation in Parliament. Similarly, Assam’s AGP supported CAA in Parliament but is now singing a different tune. Others like JD(U) and BJD, which also supported CAA, are pushing back against NRC. All these parties were mum earlier, despite CAA-NRC’s discriminatory and bureaucratic character as well as NRC’s apparent failure in Assam having been pointed out. While they should have exercised due diligence, BJP should now pay heed and listen to the protesting voices.

“But that isn’t happening yet going by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rebuke of the violent protests and unqualified backing for UP police. Videos of the violence implicate both sides. With police constraining the space for peaceful protests the danger of grievances manifesting as violence grows. Acts like booking 1,200 people at Aligarh Muslim University for a candlelight protest mustn’t be repeated. 21 shooting deaths in UP alone are excessive. Many states have said they will not cooperate in these enumeration exercises. A gaping trust deficit is accompanying the gathering storm and it portends misery, chaos and economic ruin. Let’s pull back from this chasm, and focus the nation’s attention instead on what the IMF has billed as the surprising magnitude of India’s slowdown. What the country needs is jobs and economic growth, not “maximum government”.”


Small mercies, small beginnings, but beginnings from those who have so far been afraid to stick their necks out.


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


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