Ranjona Banerji: No trending hashtags, just short shrift coverage on Bengal

26 May,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


Since I last wrote, the anger from Bengal has only grown. Where is the nationwide outpouring of sympathy? Where are the trending hashtags and the demands for help on social media? And where is the media? The large proportion of Bengalis in the India media notwithstanding, Cyclone Amphan and its devastating effects on Bengal have got short shrift coverage wise is the complaint.

Last week I looked at immediate TV coverage via the Twitter feeds of various news channels. Now I look at newspapers, particularly, the three Sunday newspapers that I buy.

The Hindu’s Mohali edition had nothing, yes nothing, on Page 1. Page 7 of the main supplement (News 7), had three stories. Above the fold, “Mamata pegs cyclone damage at ₹1 lakh crore, toll rises to 86” by a special correspondent datelined Kolkata; headline above the fold, “Odisha sends help to battered Bengal”, by a staff reporter datelined Bhubaneshwar and below the fold, “Amid protests, Army deployed in Bengal”, also by a special correspondent datelined Kolkata.

None of these articles focused on the damage, the loss to human life, to nature, to properties nor on the collapse of services and utilities in the wake of the storm. These are three semi-political takes on what is a humanitarian disaster first off. Not to forget the terrible impact on trees. At least 5000 damaged in Kolkata alone, from various accounts. Most of the information about Bengal has come from citizens who have managed to get network.

The Hindu is one of India’s best papers, with a strong focus on newsgathering.

The Times of India’s Dehradun edition on Sunday, May 24 had three above the fold stories on Page 8, all from PTI: “After cyclone, Army deployed in WB for restoration work”; “Amphan toll 85 in WB; protests over electricity, water supply” and “Centre rushes 10 more NDRF teams to WB”.

Here also the slant is political and not humanitarian with no ground reporting of any sort whatsoever. There is, incidentally, a substantial Bengali population in Dehradun in case anyone pulled that old excuse of “who’s interested” if indeed interest in a calamity like this is only parochial.

The Sunday Express, New Delhi City edition, found space on its front page for Bengal with “Amphan brings down trees, experts say poor planning”. This is a bylined story by Shantanu Chowdhury and Ravik Bhattacharya and a PTI story on Page 5 says “Bengal seeks Army help to restore essential services”. The Indian Express’s long reputations rests on its investigative nature and strong reportage.

Basically then, the biggest story out of Bengal, according to all three newspapers, is the Army being asked for or sent to help. The condition of the state and its people are left ignored.

You may of course look at my name and decide that I am the one being parochial. But am I? This massive storm, one of the biggest in recent history if not since 1737 according to some, hit India Not “Bengal”. India. That is, unless India only consists of BJP-ruled states? Whatever your politics, your affiliations, your loyalties or your instructions from the Central government based on newsprint taxes or pending DAVP ad payments, Cyclone Amphan was and is a “story”.

Here is a small sample of Cyclone Amphan coverage from the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera.








Yes, there a massive global pandemic. Yes, trains have got lost. Yes, the numbers for COVID 19 are on the rise. Yes, there is confusion over lockdown extensions. Yes, the economy has collapsed. Yes, a pigeon spy from Pakistan has been apprehended. Yes, China has entered Indian territory.

But there is no excuse not to cover post-cyclonic devastation.

And while we’re on the subject, fat lot all the various disasters I have listed above have been covered adequately.  The only thing effectively covered up has been the Modi Government’s long list of inadequacies.

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

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