Ranjona Banerji: Media, locked down!

03 Apr,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

How has the coronavirus Covid19, including the lockdown affected the media?

In a word, badly.

Coverage issues aside, there are strong business model problems. Newspapers are not printed or not delivered. Advertising revenue is down. All resources have been shifted to virus coverage. Opportunities have shrunk. Budgets have shrunk. For newspapers, especially, the fact that the physical entity is nor available for weeks can break the habit which would be catastrophic. TV, presumably, as long is it keeps up with its toxic fantasy programmes will continue to get some sort of viewership, but not anyone looking for news, obviously.

This note from the Indian Express chairman, via newslaundry.com, makes the problems clear:

https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/04/01/pay-cuts-at-indian-express-chairman-and-chief-editor-take-100-percent-cut

And there are the arms of the State. The Supreme Court ruled the media must only publish “official” versions of Covid 19 updates (while “allowing” discussion) and directed the government to issue an update every 24 hours. These updates however are few and far between. The Government has shirked badly on sharing information. It has shifted responsibility on who delivers the information from agency to agency. And let us not forget that there are severe doubts about the veracity of information being handed out. Part of a journalist’s job is to question, not parrot government handouts. Yes, I can hear you laughing.

https://thewire.in/law/coronavirus-v-free-speech-modi-government-opens-new-battlefront-in-supreme-court

This is not new from the Modi Government, this attempt to muzzle the media, and it has been emboldened by all those within the media who provide open, tacit and implicit support to all government actions, regardless of the disastrous consequences on the people of India. We all know this.

Even the Editors Guild of India, known in recent times for its inability to stand up for journalists and journalism, had to issue a statement. Which said, among other things: “The Editors Guild is deeply perturbed over the recent government statement before the Supreme Court…” It goes on to say, “No democracy anywhere in the world is fighting the pandemic by gagging its media.”

PEN India has also issued this statement:

https://pendelhistatements.wordpress.com/2020/04/02/pen-delhi-on-the-importance-of-press-freedom-in-india-during-coronavirus/?fbclid=IwAR3D6Dz2HCOuKvT444vWdN-Sser6Gj4gqE8-zFpMz-enX2ABc24opaLa8Yw

And even stronger is this from journalist Salil Tripathi, who is Chair of PEN’s Writers in Prison committee:

“It is outrageous that India, the world’s most populous democracy, is restricting the free flow of information at a time of a great health crisis. These attacks on the media show that the government and its loud supporters want to control the narrative, and not the virus, which is the real threat in India.”

The New York Times has this really sad, if unfortunately spot on, analysis of the state of the Indian media today: attacked, cowering and all too often craven. The few standing up to power are so few it is pitiable.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/world/asia/modi-india-press-media.html?fbclid=IwAR0Y1oOQqGQP_SDgZG3LNMF9v4k4tindVXPWTU7AqevfxX_cTYbRrgoeGGM

What a disaster all this is, at a time when the nation needs a strong independent media. The lockdown has created all kinds of doubts and questions, the disease itself is terrifying, regardless of all efforts, the spread of fake news via social media continues. For the media to be under self-appointed lockdown is unconscionable.

This is a Central government which has not held regular press conferences, which badly bungled the lockdown causing untold suffering and death to India’s migrant workers, which did not coordinate with state governments, which appeared to have no plan except a lockdown, which did not and has not tested enough, which is always ready to pass the buck. No wonder, this is a government which wants to shut down the media.

As ever, the test of a free media in India is simple. Check how many journalists and TV personalities applauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech about a pointless publicity stunt of waving torches at 9 pm on April 5. And then check how many will tell you that it’s an idea stolen from Italy.

https://www.msn.com/en-in/health/health-news/coronavirus-italians-light-candles-at-windows-to-beat-virus-blues/vp-BB11g4HB?fbclid=IwAR1-hg_M82B5UzXWYJJVi0OR25Eo9ttSyriukSrUnnTA9-eUk17z0SnHggg

QED.

 

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

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