Breaking News? Ha ha ha!!!

14 Jul,2020


By Ranjona Banerji


Breaking, breaking: Sachin Pilot of the Congress is about to join the BJP, will not join the BJP, will not speak to the Gandhis in charge, the Gandhis in charge will not speak to him, the Gandhis in charge have spoken to him, Pilot has met the BJP president, Pilot has not met the BJP president, the Rajasthan government has fallen, the Rajasthan government has not fallen, Pilot is a turncoat, Pilot is a true patriot, Ashok Gehlot is a greedy old man, Ashok Gehlot is a not a greedy old man, Pilot has more followers than Gehlot, Gehlot has more followers than Pilot, the Congress is finished, the Congress is not finished, the BJP is buying, selling and then back to Pilot is meeting, not meeting, crisis averted, not averted…


O to be a political correspondent in such high spirits! Okay, I cannot make claims about my own sources about what spirits were consumed while all this “news” was put out, but I hope someone somewhere had some fun doing it!


As I write this, at 10 am, I have no clue what’s happening. And as I watch the news, it is clear that no one has any clue. Maybe the players involved know, maybe they don’t.


And thus the whole problem of “breaking news” and “source-based journalism” all gets exposed. Yes, it is big news if the Rajasthan government falls. But the merry-go-round of conflicting “information” does nothing for media credibility. I know we hope that everyone will forget. And someone will pull out from the depths of all the rubbish that one person who predicted everything correctly – most likely a friend of theirs – and then that person will become the new Nostradamus or Messiah or placed on some spurious pedestal for the next 10 minutes.


In fact, given the massive jumble playing out in the media in front of us, there is more chance of scientists discovering what dark matter is than anyone giving us a true “inside” story on these wheeling-dealings


Am I being unfair? Errr, maybe. Anyone in a newsroom has been here. You have to trust your colleagues and at the same time, you have to get them to ask tough questions of their sources (Here’s a hack, half of them won’t ask those tough questions because they will lose access). In any evolving situation, it’s difficult to know what’s happening. But the demand for constant, instant news makes life tough for correspondents on the frontline.


Strangely, few in these newsrooms appear to care what happens to their credibility when they put out streams of conflicting information. As for the poor correspondents under unrelenting pressure, who knows what “sources” they are forced to rely on? Voices in their heads? Neighbourhood chatter around tea stalls? Friends and neighbours? And, most likely, vested interests around political formations who either have an agenda or just want to stir up the pot. Or both. Which is where newsroom filters would be vital but according to my mostly reliable sources, many newsrooms have just done away with filters these days.


It is not possible for news to “break” every five minutes. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. And that is why, Pilot is shifting here and there, the Gandhis are somewhere else, the BJP is there and here and Gehlot is where he is.


Is it surprising that some news channels would rather concentrate on what Amitabh Bachchan had for breakfast?


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

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