Ranjona Banerji: A Nefarious Attempt to Change India’s Future

08 Sep,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Working journalists, retired journalists, media associations, media watchdogs have all expressed shock and horror at the continued extremely ugly and offensive television coverage of the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput through the destruction of one woman.

The case itself has gone through mindboggling twists and turns since June 14 when Rajput died. Not least because of the fires lit by Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut who has run a crusade to get “justice” for Rajput. Initial reports, as yet officially uncontested, say he died by suicide. And so, to ensure “justice”, the stories began. He was “driven” to it by nepotism in Bollywood, therefore actors, producers, directors with family connections were to be held responsible. Film critics who gave his work bad reviews were to be held responsible. The film industry itself was responsible.

When nothing came of this, the narrative shifted, his family entered the picture. The women in his life had driven him to this. His mental health issues or no issues became a hot subject of discussion. Then we centred on one woman, his current girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty. Black magic, fraud, stealing money, controlling his life were all part of her “arsenal”, plus the apparently well-known and “accepted” notion that Bengali women themselves are predators when it comes to innocent naïve Bihari and North Indian men.

In between all this falls the political angle: Maharashtra versus Bihar (and hence the entrance of the CBI, via the kind attentions of the Supreme Court of India). State elections in Bihar, where the BJP has claimed “justice for Rajput” as a campaign handle, versus attempts to topple a state government. Here Ms Ranaut has claimed that Mumbai is worse than Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and she fears for her life. After a spat with the ruling Shiv Sena-led coalition in Maharashtra over law and order in Mumbai, Ms Ranaut has been given Y class security.

From the aside, back to the vilification and character assassination of Chakraborty. Which now has a drugs angle to that, who took it, who sold it and so on. All this has been driven by media madness, fuelled by public mobs. It’s hard to know which fuels the other, but both are undoubtedly inextricably connected.

Newslaundry.com has spoken to the public, men and women who run campaigns on the internet to get the death penalty for Chakraborty. It makes for chilling reading, the hatred for one woman and it is fuelled and kept alive.

https://www.newslaundry.com/inside-the-online-cult-of-justice-for-SSR

But even more frightening is this report from newsminute.com about how studio heads have kept on with this despicable form of journalism because of rating points. Journalists have objected, but whenever channels have switched to other news, their viewership has fallen drastically. Therefore, between the viewing public and the rapacious media, there is a dangerous relationship.

https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/armed-lakhs-new-viewers-tv-bosses-quell-internal-resistance-ssr-coverage-132527

We must therefore drop the hypocrisy, within the media and within society. It’s not just Times Now, Republic TV, Aaj Tak, and the rest of the media ghouls. Everyone is responsible here. Lynch mobs have been legitimised by the government in power. And the current bloodlust from online and viewing audiences is part of that pattern. The TV channels which fed the mob violence against Muslims and Dalits, against secular activists, against anyone who questioned the Narendra Modi government now use the same strategy to feed bloodlust in the Sushant Singh Rajput case.

It is a desperate cynical manipulation of ancient human tendencies. Of clannish behaviour, patriarchy, misogyny and blood in return for blood. Those reporters and camerapersons, those anchors and producers who keep this campaign of rage going, how will they be affected after this is over? Will they able to switch back to “normal” or will they be tainted forever by what they were part of? There is a serious media mental health problem ahead, made worse by a shrinking job market.

Should I bore you by reminding you why these government-propaganda television channels are doing this? India’s highest ever and rising virus figures? India’s lowest ever and falling economic indicators? Whispers of war looming on the borders with China? A prime minister who talks about toys and dogs and not about any problems which Indians face?

Like in the old days of witch trials and circus arenas, Chakraborty has been chosen as the sacrifice at the altar of hatred and deflection. If they go ahead with it, her blood is on all of us. Those who feed the anger, those who feel the anger, those who go along with it, those who nurture the deflection and those who say nothing.

For the Indian media, this is one more test we will fail. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only about money. It’s about a nefarious attempt to change India’s future. And we’re all complicit just by being part of it.

I can’t see the Indian media, especially television, rising above this so easily. Handwringing and despair in other sections of the Indian media notwithstanding.

 

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

 

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