Ranjona Banerji: When the media went “phoos” on Rajasthan political developments

11 Aug,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

“PM sends funds worth Rs 17,100 crore into bank accounts of over 8 crore farmers: 8 crore farmers get Rs 6000 each under Centre’s PM-KISAN Scheme”.

This is a headline from NDTV’s Twitter account and web edition. But similar headlines appeared all over the media.

The impression is that Mr Narendra Modi personally sent this money to these 8 crore farmers. I had visions of the man bent over his computer, filling in 8 crore bank transfer details and hitting “confirm” 8 crore times. As a wit on Twitter put it, the headline implies that Modi broke all his personal FDs and then transferred that money to India’s farmers out of the kindness of his great and generous heart.

Of course I know, and you should know, that Modi did not send Rs 17,100 crore to anyone. It was the Government of India. And that means it was the people of India. That is, we the people sent this pitiful amount which totals to Rs 6000 a year to those farmers who signed up for PM KISAN. That is, in effect, Modi did nothing.

Obviously, this was a government press release (or these days, a government diktat) and these pliable media houses just copied it word for word and put it out. Some people even took bylines for this brave cut-paste job. This is nothing new. Twitter is full of senior blue-ticked “journalists” who happily repost government press releases with neither context nor questions.

And then we have this “poll” conducted by India Today. The Mood of the Nation or some such. Who did they ask? Certainly not me. This is my current mood, explained a word from The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd: “CRANLEIGH (n) A mood of irrational irritation with everybody and everything.”

Okay, back to serious business. This “poll” said that most of India thought Mr Modi was doing an excellent job with Covid-19, China, the economy everything. Some people did point out that this “poll” did not give the 6-odd who took part the option of saying that Modi had done badly: Just very well, well and can’t say.

Modi was also picked as the best choice for the next PM of India. You know those elections that are four years away, if we still have elections by then.

The Mood of the Nation however is somewhat bizarre. People also picked the Congress to form the next government at the Centre.

I leave you to fathom what this means.

However, anyone who has ever organised an opinion poll for their newspaper or journal or news site or perhaps even “news” channel, knows how you can game the system, how the framing of questions gives you the answers you want, how the demographic of those polled gives you the answers you want…

And sometimes, as with the last question, it can go horribly wrong!!!!!

In general, the larger media in India never disappoints. People used to make fun of Doordarshan News in the old days: “The Prime Minister inaugurated this and that.” What is different today is that everyone mimics a state-owned broadcaster. The PM inaugurated an underwater cable to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The PM has a new beard and so on. Nothing about China, the economy, Covid, obviously.

Oddly, we are not getting hourly updates on Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

The larger journalistic community has also covered itself with glory in its coverage of the Rajasthan political drama. We got plenty of gossip and speculation. But that it all went “phoos” to use a colloquialism when the supposed renegade Sachin Pilot returned to the Congress fold. And this damp squib ending was not predicted by anyone.

I am shocked. I thought gossip mills were far more efficient.

Some sections of India’s pliable media however could not hold back their disappointment at what happened in Rajasthan, as the accompanying screenshot demonstrates, with this quote from Smita Prakash from ANI.

I must reminder you that news continues, outside of larger media attention, covered by the small group of journalists left. Increasing Covid figures, lies about deaths, China’s aggression, anger in Nepal, more worrying economic forecasts…

But no. There’s the PM’s PR department and there’s the death of an actor.

 

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

 

 

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