Ranjona Banerji: Peeved about the Pulitzer, not surprisingly

08 May,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

India’s TV journalists, anchors and primetime personalities win awards all the time. Some they give to each other. Some they invent from time to time. Some they make up as they go along. The provenance and credibility of most of these awards are deep mysteries to the rest of us who make a living of sorts in journalism. Obviously not as anchors and/or personalities. Just as hacks.

But woe betide any person who wins one of the most prestigious global awards in journalism. Watch the fire and brimstone come hurtling down on them from every hate-spewing anchor from Zee’s Sudhir Chaudhary onwards.

Dar Yasin, Mukhtar Khan and Channi Anand, who work with Associated Press, won 2020’s Pulitzer for feature photography. Their work on “striking images of life” in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, after the abrogation of Article 370 by the Government of India in December 2019, won them this much-coveted award.

https://blog.ap.org/announcements/aps-2020-pulitzer-prize-winning-photos

https://scroll.in/latest/961042/associated-press-photographers-win-pulitzer-for-j-k-coverage-after-it-lost-special-status?fbclid=IwAR3dPDE5W4UtjNSCG_LVuS2WZhiN8E922Lj8xE3LU5CzNgc_VuDDBN8jVl0

 

However, India being India anyone who congratulated the three photojournalists immediately found themselves tagged with the Modi administration’s favourite insult: anti-national!! When it comes from some BJP TV prop like Sambit Patra, that is understandable. But what about all the “journalists” who were so very upset?

The award had several triggers: Kashmir. Life in a military crackdown. Abrogation. Muslims.

This was enough to enrage all our “patriots” behind a camera or a desk or in front of them. How dare the Pulitzer do such a thing? Ban the Pulitzer and so on. All these government stooges and patriots are permanently confused about Kashmir. Is it part of India or not? If it is, then the pain of Kashmir is our pain. (I’ll sidestep the larger humanitarian or even planetary argument for now.) If a Kashmiri wins a prestigious award, is it not a matter of national pride?

Of course, you and I know that it is not the award so much as the fact that it shows the Narendra Modi government and the BJP in a bad light. And when journalists have been arrested for showing the government in a “bad light” for reporting on transgressions in Covid-19 containment, then why not outrage about an award?

This editorial from The Telegraph sums up our collective stupidity:

“That a handful of journalists remained true to their profession by choosing to retain their autonomy is heartening at a time when large segments of the Indian media are more than eager to march to the tune of the powers that be. Mr Yasin and his colleagues have set an inspiring example that should be emulated by members of the journalistic tribe in an age where authenticity has become a casualty of the post-truth ethic.”

 

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/hidden-picture-pulitzer-prize-for-3-indian-photojournalists-from-kashmir-calls-for-celebration/cid/1771210?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tt_daily_twit

As we see in India around us, the government continues to try and hide any number of truths. You might try and rationalise this by pointing out that all governments have and will do this. Of course, that rationalisation is an attempt to obfuscate the larger point of journalism: to expose what has been hidden. Whether this government or that.

And we know (even if we pretend otherwise) that apart from certain media houses and a smattering of journalists, the government’s publicity agents within the media have worked very hard to suppress the pain and suffering of a life under lockdown in Kashmir.

We come back to that same point about journalism over and over again: that the primary job is to expose the lies of officialdom to better inform the reading and viewing public. Once the government has its own publicity arms within the government. Now it has an army of publicity agents who get paid by two masters and thereby cheat the public.

The Pulitzer has also been a reminder to a profession caught up in the coverage of a virus, no matter how important and frightening, that atrocities continue across India and that old wounds still fester.

If you think that I am exaggerating about government stooges within the media, then consider this report. The Modi government is apparently planning to set up a panel of officials and “credible” journalists to improve India’s press freedom index, not at an all-time low.

https://theprint.in/india/new-panel-of-officials-credible-journalists-to-help-improve-indias-press-freedom-rank/415305/?amp&__twitter_impression=true&fbclid=IwAR0hAA0EvPK0X-T54xURpP_LIVkDRkbk7IsXtSH3Y5xZa-0z22K_xUJvb4E

First of all, the one thing India’s press freedom index does not need to improve it is government intervention. The abysmal figure is because of government intervention.

More importantly, any journalist who agrees to sit on such a panel is culpable in the further decline of India’s already low journalistic reputation.

And finally, congratulations to Dar Yasin, Muskhar Khan and Channi Anand and to Associated Press on their Pulitzer!

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

 

 

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