Ranjona Banerji: Propaganda ≠ journalism

19 May,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

It is a matter of great shame for any journalist that propaganda websites like OpIndia have somehow infiltrated the ranks of journalistic exercises. No matter how much you claim to hate “the media”, no matter how many curses you may throw at it, no matter how justified those curses may be, propaganda does not constitute journalism. It might belong to this general category of mass media, probably somewhere in the nether regions of “publicity”.

Public relations professionals are appalled at the idea that they are associated with publicity and propaganda, so I am not going there. To be honest, some are also appalled at being associated with journalism but that’s another story with some mutual back-and-forth!

But gradually, OpIndia has made the grade. Assisted by the active and widespread rightwing, pro-BJP section of the population in India and abroad, in spite of not following a single tenet of journalism, there it is. Popping up on Google searches, infiltrating Whatsapp and other methods of sharing news. Its original founders were often a bit touchy and defensive about not being journalists. Their intent, around the time Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi was presented as the messiah of India, was to present the “other side” since by their reckoning most of the media were not rightwing enough or anti-rightwing or pro-Congress or pro-Communist or pro-whatever OpIndia decided.

As we have seen since then, many in the media have capitulated to the great rewards of being BJP and/or Modi propagandists, but that’s our everyday story. As websites like NitiCentral tried to do the same thing with some semblance of journalism, assisted by Firstpost.com in its earlier avatar and management, and present a “rightwing” point of view, as if the Indian rightwing was not a force of Hindutva but more like a Western idea of “conservatism”.

Then came Swarajya.com, trying to piggyback on the names of C Rajagopalachari and Minoo Masani, with no claim to their breadth and scope of their intellect or politics. Swarajya was started by journalists and once it bought OpIndia, this website which was largely filled with lies and vile accusations, got a sort of legitimacy.

The official relationship with Swarajya maybe over but OpIndia has achieved what it wanted. A larger canvas on which to spread its Islamophobia, its attacks on anyone who is not a Modi acolyte or part of the RSS or a BJP supporter. Its journalistic credentials are still non-existent, but it has managed to breakthrough earlier barriers and enter the “mainstream” if you will.

And as a result it has become even more dangerous. This is an example of how despicable OpIndia is and how fighting its lies and malice are not easy. The redoubtable AltNews, relentless in its efforts to track down and expose fake news, has broken down a story which OpIndia did, claiming that a young boy in Bihar was sacrificed by a group of Muslims in order to get good luck for a mosque under construction. OpIndia quoted the boy’s father. As the story gained currency, the DGP of Bihar had to intervene and appear on Facebook Live to counter OpIndia. But as you can imagine, the damage will have been done. As AltNews points out, this story has appeared while we are in the midst of a global pandemic. But the vicious mindset of OpIndia cannot possibly be affected by such matters. It has one goal only. To spread hatred in order to prop up the BJP.

https://www.altnews.in/gopalganj-boy-drowned-in-river-opindia-falsely-claimed-that-minor-hindu-boy-sacrificed-by-mosque/

There is bad news for the media on a number of counts here. Each OpIndia article that is read and assimilated, undercuts the power, such as it is, of journalism. Add this to the number of popular TV anchors and columnists who behave like BJP/Modi propagandists and the damage is complete.

On that miserable note, here’s some good news: Five years of thewire.in! Congratulations to all those at The Wire and for keeping the journalistic flag high against all odds!

 

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

 

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