Ranjona Banerji: Need a big story? Do one on D-man!

12 May,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


There should be two main stories in India today. The first is the SARS-Cov-2 virus, the top global story. The second is exodus of Indians from their places of work to their homes. The pain, the suffering, the sheer heartless callousness of the authorities and their erstwhile employers. Whatever other horrors this currently incurable virus has rained down on us, its effect on India’s workers is the worst.

But you and I know that poor people and their problems either don’t interest the middle classes and definitely don’t interest either owners or newsrooms or viewers who really want constant affirmation that their choice of Narendra Modi as prime minister of India was not just correct but the best decision ever.

Therefore, as people get killed by the roadside walking for their lives, whether by the weather or by the darkness or by trains and trucks or by sheer exhaustion and hunger, how do we present India’s greatest prime minister ever, if we are a popular and pliant “news” channel?

Ladies and gentleman, I give you Dawood Ibrahim. Since this prominent member of the Bombay underworld left India in 1984, he has remained the top go-to guy for all “no big story today” headline hunters. Many of the journalists who assiduously cover Dawood Ibrahim today were not born in 1984, do not know Bombay and were attracted by the “glamour” of the underworld as portrayed by Bollywood.

So, when SARS-Cov-2 overtakes the globe, Indians are in misery, how does one deflect attention from being forced to question the government? We run “stories” on how Dawood Ibrahim is active somewhere or the other. These are the best stories too. You don’t need any credible work except hearsay and rumours. Several “stories” about tapes of Bombay’s famous gangsters talking to someone or the other have turned out to be fake. But who cares? Just keep trying.

As a matter of interest, if you do a Google search on news about Ibrahim, the top stories will be from sites like MyNation (RepublicTV, BJP connection-financed), Swarajya (BJP supporter-financed), Zee (RSS member owned), OpIndia (not a journalistic effort but a pro-BJP site) and so on.

The latest story therefore is that “intel sources” have claimed that Ibrahim is going to use the virus to create “unrest” in India. The screenshot is from CNNNews18 but that is representative. Several other pliant channels have toed this “intel” line, finding themselves unable to use any “intel” that maybe be resident somewhere in their own skull cages.

Dawood done, let’s move on to strategy number two. A survey.

Times Now has worked very hard on this “online” survey. Whoever they employed sent out questionnaires to 100 people in various Indian “metros”. And came to this invaluable conclusion that of these 100 people, 7.9 percent of them felt that Modi was doing a great job handling the SARS-Cov-2 virus. All the respondents watched English news channels but am guessing these were not the BBC or CNN or Al Jazeera. Maybe the questions were emailed to people within Times Now? Or standing inside BJP offices? As Twitter jokes pointed out, what about the 21 percent who didn’t think Modi was the best ever??

More seriously, you might perhaps imagine even some TV people do not have the gall to visit those on the long trek home and ask them to take part in such a survey. Or, it is more likely that online surveys would not have worked…

Some journalists though have carried on with covering India’s most neglected, deprived and exploited. From newspapers to news sites to TV channels, they have brought us stories of despair and strength. Of these, the most consistent has been Barkha Dutt’s Youtube channel Mojo Story. She and her team have walked across India and covered the story of the virus and its effect on the most helpless from the ground. Salute!




Work it out for yourselves: Which of these practise journalism and which are just government mouthpieces.


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


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