Ranjona Banerji: Bad Journalism and Tacky Calls

28 Jan,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

As the election date for the Delhi assembly gets closer, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s push to win goes further into inciting violence and provoking hatred. For example, the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi, where mainly women mainly Muslim have occupied a road, have been on for more than a month. There have been several articles written on Shaheen Bagh and the women there, by the national and international media.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/21/modi-is-afraid-women-take-lead-in-indias-citizenship-protests?CMP=share_btn_tw&fbclid=IwAR2B7-2L9aRLX-eTkVOu8zDRrIBcQQBSMfSzI7RCOg1OPc1qPe6ZpgoQEYM

https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/speaking-truth-to-power-in-shaheen-bagh-and-beyond-11579260128955.html

But it was only when BJP campaigners started taking on Shaheen Bagh, trying to equate the protestors with anti-national infiltrators, that those sections of the media which had been involved in their usual campaign of encouraging Hindu-Muslim hatred got activated. Two things happened simultaneously. One, a video did the rounds of a young man’s “fiery speech”, saying India and the North East should be cut off from the rest of India. The young man was identified as an ex-JNU student, as a Muslim and as one of the organisers of Shaheen Bagh.

https://www.firstpost.com/india/jnu-student-sharjeel-imam-remarks-do-not-constitute-a-crime-and-firs-must-be-quashed-writes-markandey-katju-7960721.html

On cue, the attack on Shaheen Bagh began, with Union Home Minister Amit Shah leading the onslaught: The BJP would not allow India to become a Shaheen Bagh. And so, where the BJP starts, how can sections of the media not step in? Consulting editor of NewsNation Deepak Chaurasia made a visit to Shaheen Bagh and was heckled by protestors there. This was presented as everything from attempt to murder to attempts to stop the “press” from doing its job.

https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/01/25/deepak-chaurasia-heckled-at-shaheen-bagh

After a long Twitter storm when some journalists insisted that the community had to stand up for Chaurasia and others questioned whether he was a journalist at all, both Chaurasia and Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee (famous as being unashamedly pro-BJP, pro-Government) visited Shaheen Bagh. Journalistic bravery or bravado? Anyway, the second visit apparently covered by heavy security did not appear to come to anything except some exchange of verbal shots with TV anchors trying to make themselves the story.

There is just over a week left until Delhi votes, so we can possibly expect more fake attempts at journalism from these two. At no point, it should be noted, was the actual question of the implications of the Citizenship Amendment Act and why people were protesting discussed. It is evident that the entire focus of these visits was to present the protestors as being against India and the underlying implication that they were sponsored by Pakistan.

Shaheen Bagh presents an ideal opportunity to either admire how India’s citizens are fighting for democracy or how disloyal Indians are against the glorious BJP and are therefore not really Indian. How much of this is journalism people can judge for themselves. Within the community I think we all know. And it’s not a pleasant answer for Chaurasia and Chaudhary.

**

In fact the news cycle as far as BJP’s campaign is concerned has gone passed snipes at Shaheen Bagh. Minister of state for Finance Anurag Thakur asked for India’s “traitors” to be shot at an election rally. This by any standards should have been the only news of the day. Thakur is supposed to be working on the “Budget” due in Parliament on February 1. One might even argue that all this are a deflection tactics than what might well be the seventh inadequate budget in a row from the Narendra Modi government.

https://theprint.in/india/days-before-budget-minister-anurag-thakur-chants-desh-ke-gaddaron-ko-goli-maaro-saalon-ko/355124/

But selection of news is also a “judgment call”, as we like to tell ourselves. These are tumultuous time. Monday morning saw news of basketball star Kobe Bryant and others dying in a helicopter crash which set off international mourning and side conversations about sexual assault and rape charges against him. The government released CAA notifications which said that those allowed to apply for citizenship under the new law had to have papers which confirmed their religion, a strange way to go about helping people. Members of the European Parliament released a strong resolution against CAA. Thakur’s call to murder of course.

So when Zakka Jacob of News18 on his programme “Brass Tacks” decides to focus on film star Salman Khan and some debt to a mechanic, that might have been a call but it showed no judgment.

 

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

 

 

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