Ranjona Banerji: Laurel, Hardy & the Not-so-funny-anymore world of Indian News TV

17 Jul,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


There’s all sorts of handwringing happening on social media over the ongoing political crisis in Rajasthan.

Fervent appeals are being made to a number of TV personalities to be fair, do something and whatnot. Most of these appeals are from members of the Congress Party and some from the general public.

Meanwhile, several journalists have put out the theory that the “revolt” against the Congress Party by Sachin Pilot and his supporters was egged on by a bunch of Delhi journalists.

Well, here’s another fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, Stan!


Who are we as journalists then? Dictator-makers? Wheeler-dealers? Snake oil salespersons? Brokers?

The sad answer of course is yes. That’s what some of us want to be. Not showing truth to power. But in the thick of it, making power dance to your tune. In case anyone’s forgotten, I remind you of the Radia Tapes.

And the appealers themselves? They belong to a merry band of people of these times. People whose very existence depends on the number of times they appear on television. For this fame, they appear to have sacrificed their whole lives as they rush from studio to studio or OB van to OB van or nowadays, app to app.

The sad reality is that 90 per cent of these TV anchors they appeal to are not journalists any more, if they ever were. They may not even be powerbrokers. They are however famous and I suppose that makes them influential and powerful.

As for those journalists who egg politicians on, well. You believe them at your peril. That someone as canny as a politician gets taken in by journalists, that’s a laugh and shows the extent of blind ego and complete lack of political nous. Like journalists, politicians need to be permanently sceptical, surely? I can understand film stars living locked up in some unreal world. Their lives are unreal. But politicians are supposed to have their noses in the ground, not in champagne flutes in Delhi drawings rooms? O never mind!

This though allows me to make a short, neat segue into my personal point of view. Remember all that hoopla a few years ago about how politicians should not be allowed red lights on their cars et cetera? As ever, we concentrated on the symbol and not what it stood for. So, through this whole crisis over Covid-19, how many politicians did we see out on the roads, out in hospitals, helping people in trouble, whether migrants or patients or those who had lost their livelihoods? How many put their own lives as risk to demonstrate their supposed calling of “public service”? Did you see any TV debates questioning politicians on their lack of engagement?

We’ve allowed a bunch of new age maharanis and maharajas to rule over us. The fact that India’s politicians – whether BJP, Congress or any other party – think a pandemic is the time to make a push for personal or political gain is nothing but extreme callousness and privilege mocking us citizens. And us journalists have allowed them to get away with it. We have enabled them and encouraged them, just to get a few crumbs from the big table and then make a good dinner party story.

In case you need reminding, India has hit 10 lakh or one million Covid-19 cases today. Government stooges push the “low” number of deaths as if the government deserves a medal. The discussion over the problems of recovery, some of which are extremely serious, are barely discussed. The various claims of cures and vaccines by pharmaceutical corporates are taken at face value by TV anchors and only examined by a dedicated band of medical journalists, usually outside television. The same TV anchors give free publicity to dubious “cure” claims without any sense of responsibility, even if they are under instruction from their owners to work as publicity agents. Because how stupid do you have to be as a journalist to not know how Big Pharma keeps its high profits, bribes unscrupulous doctors and squeezes patients dry?

If you need further reminding, the situation with China at Ladakh remains confusing and distressing, where investigation belies government claims. We spend more time discussing the fiasco of the 1962 war with China than we have the 2020 situation.

If it’s history we’re worried about, maybe, we just laugh it off like Laurel and Hardy and pretend tomorrow’s not going to judge us?

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

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