Ranjona Banerji: Coronation virus indeed!

11 Mar,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

“Coronation Virus” from The Telegraph, Calcutta, is one more in a brilliant series of headlines for our times from the newspaper. The headline is clarified thus: “The world, including some Indian states, is battling a pandemic and a potential economic crisis but we are celebrating a…”

The veritable collapse of the Kamal Nath Madhya Pradesh government on Holi, after teetering for the last few days, was caused by the shift of Congress leader Jyotiaditya Scindia towards the BJP. The media as a result spent all of Holi coming up with tidbits on these dramatic events. “Scindia is now at home”, ‘Scindia has now met Modi”, “Scindia felt he did not get his due”, “Scindia comes from a family of turncoats” and so on.

Obviously, for any newsroom, news as it breaks is the news of the day. And the collapse of any government and all the political finagling around it is exciting and deserves extensive coverage. If only some of the political conjecture was backed up by fact, the reader and viewer would be all the better for it. Of course, this is an old problem and a perennial problem. And particularly taxing for anyone who runs a newsroom and wants to present more actual information than gossip and kite-flying from unnamed “sources”. (Although we have all succumbed to that too!)

But there is always context and that is what The Telegraph’s headline provides. India is in a troubled condition, the world is gripped by panic, but India’s ruling party, the BJP, is only concerned with toppling governments and creating instability.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having made some grand statement that he would not celebrate Holi because of the spread of Covid 19, actually spent Holi in the BJP office with Scindia and other BJP leaders. No work for the country but work for the party never stops. That’s your context.

I fear though for the reader and viewer in these tumultuous times. As it is, the spread of fake news via various social media platforms is so endemic that there is no containing it. On Twitter the other day, I saw people (connected to Indian rightwing pro-BJP propaganda websites) get into arguments with one of Wikipedia’s founders Jimmy Wales, and then explain to him how Wikipedia works. Is that “dumbsplaining” in today’s terminology? A diet of forwards does not increase either knowledge or good sense.

Whatever shenanigans continue in Madhya Pradesh and all the justified hand-wringing on the problems within the Congress Party, what is remains is an India that is struggling on a number of levels thanks to a deliberately disruptive and essentially incompetent government at the Centre. All these distractions cannot save us from how low we have fallen as a democratic Republic.

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The media itself continues to be under attack. Anyone who questions the government is on the hitlist. The recent ban on two Malayalam news channels, for being critical of the RSS-BJP role in the Delhi riots gives one a direct clue why so many media houses prefer to be compliant to Modi and the BJP/RSS!

Senior journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay analyses the ban and its overturning for The Deccan Herald. Although he gives Modi a free pass on this and blames a lower functionary in the Information & Broadcasting ministry, I would contest that personally. It is more likely that the BJP high command was cut by the subsequent criticism and realised that one of the two channels, Asianet, had a BJP part-owner in Rajeev Chandrashekhar. However, my personal views aside, Mukhopadhyay provides a sharp and well-presented picture of how press freedom in India is being systematically dismantled by the BJP and the Modi Government.

https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/press-freedom-in-india-has-taken-a-beatin

 

The Hindu’s Readers’ Editor, AS Panneerselvan takes us to the core issue at stake and reminds us why an independent media needs public investment to stay alive and relevant:

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/public-interest-journalism-needs-public-investment/article31016693.ece

 

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

 

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