Ranjona Banerji: Why does the Indian media question the Opposition more than the government in power?

10 Jul,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

I was asked yesterday on a Youtube chat with Pakistani academician and political analyst Qamar Cheema why the Indian media was so obsessed with questioning the Opposition rather than the government in power. Even in Pakistan he said this was not the case.

Indeed, it is deeply embarrassing for the Indian media that this is how the world sees us. Add to this the little extra embarrassment that Nepal has banned all Indian news channels except Doordarshan because the way Nepal is being treated by the Indian media!

How does one answer this question? For the past six years, ever since Narendra Modi first became Prime Minister of India, a large section, or rather a proportionately larger section of the Indian media stopped questioning the government. This is the same media which incessantly questioned the last UPA government led by Manmohan Singh, as the government roundly deserved. From corruption charges in the Commonwealth Games to the sale of spectrum to coal auctions to the Indo-US nuclear deal, this government was under the scanner.

Those who did not question the UPA government enough were dismissively called “dynasty hacks” by some sections of the media. These journalists were said to be part of the Congress Party’s universe and therefore unable to question a Congress government. The BJP took this further with its coarse, inelegant phrases like “presstitutes” and “news traders”. Irony and karma can both have some sharp kicks. Most of those who coined the phrase “dynasty hacks” have now seamlessly turned into Modi sycophants.

But at least you know where you stand with them.

Then there’s that other group. Which won’t criticise the government of the day without pulling out some similar action or inaction done or not done in the past by an Opposition party. It is usually the Congress but it could be any other as well. This provides a perfect excuse for the BJP for any and all of its transgressions. Since it’s now a word, this questioning of the Opposition is “irregardless” of the mess which the current government has put the nation in.

It’s is possible to speculate whether these commentators were indeed those “dynasty hacks”, who are so obsessed with the Congress that they look to it for all answers and blame it for the BJP’s rise to power. This may sound logical to some of you but remember that the essential job of the media is to question whoever is in power. When you can only criticize the party in power prefixed or suffixed by what some other party did or did not do, then you have reduced yourself to another form of sycophancy. You can pretend that you are being objective, but that’s just a fig leaf that fools you and nobody else.

Of course, the opposition does have a role to play in the current situation. Did they fight hard enough, did they give up, are they badly organised and so on. But these questions cannot be the main focus of Indian polity. The other scope for targeting Opposition parties is when they are in power at the state level. Thus, you put non-BJP parties under a stringent scanner. And you think your fig leaf looks a little less transparent. However, if you only focus on non-BJP parties in power and let the BJP-run states get away with whatever they’re doing, then you’re back to square one: a BJP enabler.

There remains a small group of journalists who question all power. This gets them abuse from all sides. If you’re sold out to everyone then you’re not sold out at all. Anyone who becomes a journalist to win a publicity contest is not a journalist. This is a minuscule group.

As you can see, I have no answer as to why the Indian media questions the Opposition more than the government in power.

In no particular order, what could it be?

Fear

Money

Access

Need to be Mr Popular and Ms Congeniality

Pressure

Job insecurity

Love

Wrong profession

Stupidity

All of the above?

 

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

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