Ranjona Banerji: Anyone cares about Cyclone Amphan?

22 May,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


Did the mainstream media, especially television, ignore or at any rate, downplay the tremendous damage done to Bengal by Cyclone Amphan? Bangladesh, parts of Odisha has also been badly affected, with heavy rain and wind in the surrounding areas.

I did a Twitter search yesterday evening, after I saw a few complaints. Now no one forgets that we are also in the middle of the Covid-19 crises and the terrible spectacle of India’s workers, abandoned by employers and governments trying to get home, walking with all their belongings on India’s hot, unforgiving highways, does not end.

But usually, in any news cycle, the “breaking” news for a time at least takes precedence over ongoing news. What did I find? For entertainment purposes only, I went to Times Now. It did not disappoint. For Times Now, the biggest story was some dubious claim about Ayodhya’s Ram temple. You have to give credit to the managers of this channel. No matter how awful the crisis in India, they manage to find some despicable sectarian divisive story and push that. I just cannot get my head around this Hindutva promotion agenda from Bennett Coleman as owned by the Jains.

None of the shows promoted by Times Now on Twitter had anything to do with Bengal or Amphan. At the time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not tweeted about the cyclone nor had made his decision to go to Bengal public. One can only assume therefore that the managers of Times Now were waiting for instructions from above. And in the meantime, why not increase Islamophobia in India and create communal disharmony.

CNN-News18 was better. Most of their tweets and advertised shows were about the cyclone and its terrible effects. This was most comforting. That the news cycle was not ignored, and that the news of the day was given its due.

India Today was also focused on Cyclone Amphan and its trail of destruction, though perhaps not as vigorously as CNN-News18. However, tweets included “discussions” on the cyclone, ground reports and so on.

NDTV was disappointing. It advertised shows about Covid-19, which was not the disappointing part. The problem was these shows seemed to work as platforms for government officials and pro-government medicos (obviously not epidemiologists or virologists) to push their “we have done the best” agenda. But there were also tweets about their signature primetime shows concentrating on the cyclone, with news reports and experts.

I did not venture beyond these four and into the propaganda channels. I have to admit again that I do not have a television subscription because frankly, yelling matches on these so-called “news” channels are not my idea of entertainment and all news is available online. I can even watch that rubbish online if I am forced to.

Newspapers, news sites and international news channels all managed to cover the cyclone. And of course, social media was buzzing with images and videos, at least half of them fake or at any rate from earlier storms. Amazing how videos electric wires hitting trees happened outside everyone’s cousin’s house, from the exact same balcony. In terrible times, we are all family I suppose.

No doubt by the time this goes online, there will be huge breathless paeans to Modi’s greatness and Mamata Banerjee’s meanness. The “mainstream” media is so predictable. Of course I would be most happy to be proved wrong.

But you see, this is how today’s media operates. The Modi government, which was sold to India as the best in governance, hard work and all the rest of it, by public relations firms, advertising and several, cough, “journalists”, has not covered itself with glory in its handling of the Covid-19 crisis. (I am ignoring all their other massive failures for now). Apart from mishandled lockdowns, no infrastructure or systems put in place during the lockdowns and the complete lack of planning at the end of each lockdown, pathetic “stimulus” packages, we have the problem of India’s labourers wanting to get to their home states from their work states. Suffering was ignored, politics was played. And is being played to this day.

And this is how the Modi government has now responded, happily enabled by its friends. A BJP “drive” has begun to improve the government’s image. Now, in the midst of the series of crises we are in, improving “image” should be the least of the government’s worries. But you know, we are talking about the publicity monarchs here. It’s all about optics.


Cyclone? What Cyclone?

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



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