Ranjona Banerji: Wanted: Editors, commentators who can take the central govt to task

21 Jul,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

In between all the media drama over Ashok Gehlot versus Sachin Pilot, Kangana Ranaut versus everyone over the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, AAP versus Congress, and various publicity stunts by various ministers of the Modi government, the problem of Covid-19 remains.

You know how seriously media outlets take their profession depending on how much time and effort they spend on the virus.

The current situation is that we have crossed one million cases in India and are now third on the world list, after the USA and Brazil. The numbers rise of infected people rise everyday. That is, between the time we crossed one million or 10 lakh late last week to the time of writing this, we are now at 11.5 lakh.

The declared deaths by Covid-19 however are low – under 30.000. And herein lies the story minus adequate or significant media attention. The Washington Post has done an investigation into Covid-19 deaths in India and found that deaths are grossly under-declared and pushed under the large umbrella of “co-morbidities”. That is, anyone with a pre-existing condition – like diabetes for instance – becomes extra-susceptible to the virus and then if they do not recover, the death is not blamed on the virus but on the pre-existing condition.

As earlier investigations by newspapers have shown, in Gujarat, those patients who tested positive for Covid 19 and died in hospital from “comorbidities” are shown as discharged, not dead. This is a diabolical way to keep the numbers down.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/vadodara/dead-co-morbid-patients-considered-discharged/articleshow/76842046.cms

The underlying problems with this sort of official behaviour are obvious: that we are not equipped or capable of dealing with the virus and we are being lied to by our various governments.

And we are being lied to by vast swathes of the media. Every TV show which pushed Baba Ramdev’s so-called cure for Covid-19 minus qualification or admission that these shows were actually advertisements, every TV show which presented Biocon’s psoriasis-drug research trial as fact of a Covid-19 medication minus any clarification or qualification, any media story which presented a “cure”, an “immunity” claim, any journalist who chose to interview only cardiologists instead of epidemiologists and virologists, all these stand as being in collusion with the spread of mis-truths and lies.

Yes, there are people and organisations working on ways to treat Covid-19 patients and looking for cures and vaccines. But when sections of the media chose to sensationalise unsubstantiated claims without doing any investigation at all, when all claims are taken at face value, then you know that these are publicity agents. They are usually the same people who take government claims at face value.

I understand that Covid-19 is not the only news and that too much virus news can be upsetting. However, it is news that affects the whole globe. There are any number of side issues around the virus and its impact on human life all of which need exploration.

We come back to that old, old problem with the current Indian media: the inability of too many senior editors, newsroom managers and commentators to take the Central government to task. Together with that, there are regional pride issues surfacing amongst journalists as to which area or state government is doing better.

The result is that the people of India are being misled with lies, misinformation and starvation of information. And when all this over, the media will be found most wanting. All the good work of a few will be lost in the irresponsibility of the many.

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

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