Ranjona Banerji: Journalists as publicity agents?

31 Mar,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


It has taken six years but am I correct in thinking that greater numbers in the Indian media are now seeing the incompetent callous heartlessness of the Narendra Modi government for what is? Or is it just wishful thinking? This is from an editorial in the Deccan Herald, which does not mince its words about the massive nationwide migration caused by the shoddily implemented lockdown and the resultant pain, suffering and death. It is only official incompetence on a monumental scale which has caused this, as the edit says clearly:

“The sheer scale of this mass migration has not been seen in decades. This is a man-made disaster. It could have been avoided had governments at the Centre and the states thought through the implications of imposing a nation-wide lockdown without preparation. They should have made arrangements for food and shelter for migrant populations in our cities, and provided public transport to those who wished to return to their villages. Such arrangements could have been made when a lockdown seemed inevitable or even in the interim period between the ‘janata curfew’ and the announcement of the 21-day lockdown…

“It has ordered state governments to ‘contain migrants’ within cities. While this may be aimed at preventing them from carrying coronavirus infections back to their villages, this decision is ill-conceived. Migrants attempting to cross state borders to return home are now being beaten and pushed back by police. In what’s clearly an afterthought, the government has promised to provide the migrants with food and shelter in the cities. But the use of coercive force to hold them back against their will. could trigger protests and riots. And for this, the government will have only itself to blame.”



Added to the trauma of having to leave their place of work for their homes, with no food or money or method of transportation, was the police brutality inflicted on these travellers. What government makes no arrangements at all and expects to get away with it? The Narendra Modi government of course, enabled and assisted as it has been, in every disaster it has caused, by sections of the media for over six years now.
As videos emerged on March 30, of people returned to Bareilly being sprayed down with chemicals, the true horror of the actions of the Indian government came to light. People were sprayed with Sodium Hypochlorite, which is a surface disinfectant, a form of bleach, not to be used on living beings.

Now, one could react with outrage, as most people did. One could find out why what happened did happen, as some journalists did. Or one could find ways to defend the government, as a few did. Sadly, very senior and influential journalist Shekhar Gupta was one. And Rahul Kanwal, in an elliptical manner, pointed out that the Kerala government had done something similar. Now, why do this? Which part of being a journalist makes you a publicity agent of the government? Ha ha ha ha ha, why am I asking.

But consider this. The Kerala example was provided first by Amit Malviya of the BJP IT Cell. Therefore, when a senior TV personality uses the same example to defend the government, eyebrows if not questions, are raised. According to other journalists, the Kerala government did not use bleach but soap and water. Whatever it may be, why not, with the resources you have at your disposal, check first before tweeting? Instead of resorting to childish whataboutery?



Meanwhile, health reporters across India are stymied by the authorities which will not provide adequate information or figures. The Modi government does not believe in press conferences. Scroll has put together this list of 10 questions, which India needs urgent answers to.



As news channels, especially language ones, continue with a campaign against the Chinese people, rather than the Chinese government, for “spreading” this coronavirus, the effect on people of the North East has been terrible.


And, even as India dealt with all these crises, caused by the virus and by the government’s lack of coordination, anticipation and planning, the Prime Minister released an “exercise video”. Twitter at least, took him to task.



I leave the most important for last. The Prime Minister set up a public charitable trust for donations towards Covid-19 relief. Trustees include himself, the defence minister, home minister and finance minister. Companies can use CSR funds as donations here. Many celebrities and industries have donated. There is no explanation as to why this fund was set up when the PM relief fund and similar CM relief funds already exist. There is no proper examination in the media either, except to say “the opposition” has questioned it.

Some journalists also proudly tweeted that they had contributed to it. I leave you to guess who.


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